Castleford Tigers 24 Warrington Wolves 40: Daryl Powell’s reign over - despite thrilling fightback

It wasn’t meant to end like this for Castleford Tigers or Daryl Powell.

Castleford Tigers head coach Daryl Powell watches the Haka be performed as he says farewell to Wheldon Road. Picture: PA.

However, in one of the more painful reminders of how sport does not care one jot about sentiment or the perfect finish, the West Yorkshire club’s season - and their coach’s eight-year reign - was brutally brought to a close by Warrington Wolves tonight.

There was, though, some magic to behold before it all came to a close.

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The maths had been simple: win their final regular fixture of the Super League season and Castleford would make next week’s play-offs, keeping alive Powell’s dream of winning a maiden league championship having been eluded so agonisingly in 2017.

Castleford Tigers' Jordan Turner scores. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

But, ironically facing the club he takes over in 2022, they were 12-0 down inside just eight minutes and 26-0 adrift by half-time.

Moreover, their decorated captain Michael Shenton, playing the final game of his brilliant career, had to be helped off just before the interval having suffered a dislocated shoulder. That hurts in more ways than one.

Sat in the Wheldon Road stands, a disconsolate Powell, who has resurrected a club that was on its knees when he took over in 2013, looked like he wanted someone to call it all off there and then.

When Matty Ashton raced in for his hat-trick in the 43rd minute, makeshift hooker Stefan Ratchford’s sixth goal making it 32-0, Powell would have been forgiven for never wanting to see another rugby league game again.

Wolves' Jake Mamo runs in his first try. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

However, then things changed. Castleford fans have grown used to this over the years.

Pete Mata’utia, the Australian centre who now follows Powell and assistant coach Ryan Sheridan to Warrington, scored two converted tries in as many minutes, both time ushered over by the excellent Niall Evalds.

There was a sniff, at least. When Wolves winger Josh Charnley was yellow carded for a dangerous tackle on Jordan Turner soon after, though, Wheldon Road came alive.

In the next set, it was Turner who immediately exploited the extra space to get over in the left corner for his 13th Super League try of the campaign.

Danny Richardson converted for 32-18 and the hour mark had yet to be reached.

Cometh the hour, cometh another retiring Castleford legend: Grant Millington - the Australian prop playing his last game before heading home ten years after joining Tigers - leapt near the posts to collect Gareth O’Brien’s kick and give his adoring fans a departing gift. And more hope.

Richardson improved once more for 32-24 and, with 16 minutes still to go, nervous Warrington - already secure in third spot - imploded further.

This time, England prop Mike Cooper caught Castleford front-row Liam Watts with an awful shoulder to the head and, after being alerted by the video official, was red-carded, joining Charnley on the sidelines.

Against 11 men, Castleford - pepped up brilliantly by Adam Milner off the bench - must genuinely have felt they were ready to produce the biggest comeback in Super League history.

They had a glorious chance to narrow the deficit further but, critically, Derrell Olpherts spilled Mata’utia’s pass to continue what had been an unusual off-night for the winger.

Crucially, it halted the momentum and gave relieved Warrington just enough time to recover themselves, aided further when Watts gave away a cheap penalty for Ratchford to count down the clock further before adding the two points.

Thereafter, in fairness, Steve Price’s side did finish matters off professionally, Gareth Widdop and George Williams bringing their kicking game to bear to pin the hosts back.

Connor Wrench made sure in the 78th minute, Widdop adding the goal, but, of course, the real damage had been done long before.

Jake Mamo, the Australian centre who ironically moves to Castleford in 2022, got things going by helping to set up Ashton’s sixth minute opener and was then on hand in the next set to finish off after Chris Hill’s break.

Olpherts squandered a couple of opportunities before Ratchford slotted a penalty and then an unfortunate bounce eluded Evalds to see Ashton in for his second.

When Richardson’s chipped kick ran loose, Mamo picked up and raced 80m down the right touchline for his brace and then Shenton endured his unfortunate injury.

There were some tearful farewells on the pitch afterwards but, undoubtedly, Powell, Shenton, Millington and co can all hold their heads high.

Castleford Tigers: Evalds; Olpherts, Mata’utia, Shenton, Turner; Richardson, O’Brien; Griffin, McShane, Millington, Foster, Sene-Lefao, Massey. Substitutes: Watts, Milner, Smith, Matagi.

Warrington Wolves: Ashton; Charnley, Mamo, Wrench, Thewlis; Widdop, Williams; Hill, Ratchford, Cooper, Currie, Hughes, Philbin. Substitutes: Austin, J Clark, Mulhern, Longstaff.

Referee: Liam Moore (Wigan).