IT MUST be hoped that Castleford Tigers’ Paul McShane, in particular, treats Peter Mata’utia to a few celebratory beers after this remarkable contest.
Samoan full-back Mata’utia held his nerve to slot an 87th-minute drop goal in Golden Point extra-time last night and give his side the epitome of a hard-fought victory.
Yet relieved Castleford know they should really have settled an absorbing contest – played in atrocious conditions for the most part – in normal time.
Daryl Powell’s side had seemingly put themselves in sight of success when, at 20-20, they set up perfectly for a late drop-goal attempt.
However, McShane, incredulously, tried burrowing over himself only to be denied.
It was hard to believe as the hooker had done the same thing in March at Leeds Rhinos – when his side went on to agonisingly lose in Golden Point extra-time.
Instead, here, Oliver Russell produced a brilliant 40/20 kick to get Huddersfield – who saw Lee Gaskell score a hat-trick in vain – straight back on the attack.
Joe Wardle duly made the most of that precision kick, taking two defenders over the line with him in the 75th minute as he scored on his first return to the club he left in January. Russell added his fifth conversion but there was still time for Tigers to rescue themselves just two minutes later.
The unlikely figure of Daniel Smith, the former Giants prop, dinked in a grubber and, after Jordan Turner miscalculated, Grant Millington celebrated his 200th game in Castleford colours by touching down.
Mata’utia – who had kicked four penalties – sent the game into Golden Point extra-time where more chaos ensued.
In the space of just a few seconds, Huddersfield’s Aaron Murphy, Castleford’s Liam Watts and Giants’ Jermaine McGillvary all took it in turn to spill the ball.
Jordan Rankin – who moved to Wheldon Road in the swap deal that saw Wardle go the other way – then gave the worst impression of a drop-goal attempt you are likely to see, his 40m effort more resembling a grubber.
Trueman had already seen a shot fall below the crossbar but Mata’utia made sure to give Castleford – who had lost five of their last six games – a much-needed win.
It was hard on Huddersfield who had more than matched their opponents. Stand-off Gaskell had not scored a try in nine months, his last effort being when Giants lost here last September, but came up with a silky treble that looked like being decisive.
Chances were at a premium and it was no surprise that Mata’utia opted to successfully kick for goal when Castleford were handed penalties in range in the opening 22 minutes.
But Gaskell, with the Giants’ first real chance, bumped off the usually reliable McShane to surge over for his first try.
Innes Senior, this time, spilled a high Castleford kick only for the hosts to maddeningly see Trueman throw a forward pass to Millington on the first tackle.
Gaskell eradicated any chance of that happening on Giants’ next attack; he just dropped his shoulder and went through on his own again, from a similar position to his first try but Trueman the man left in his wake on this occasion.
Russell converted both but Castleford responded just before the break when their opponents failed to deal with Mata’utia’s grubber and Greg Minikin mopped up the converted try.
When Darnell McIntosh sailed the restart directly into touch, they were handed another chance but Jake Wardle just managed to get back and scramble Trueman’s kick dead before Mike McMeeken pounced.
Giants, holding a 12-10 interval lead, had a glorious chance at the start of the second period but McGillvary fumbled forward as he slid in trying to touch down McIntosh’s well-placed grubber. At the other end, Joe Wardle was called upon to produce a crucial try-saving tackle on Rankin.
A Russell grubber meant the hosts had to defend back-to-back sets but they did so successfully.
Mata’utia’s third penalty did level it but Gaskell grabbed his treble just before the hour after Giants sliced their opponents up the middle. Still, Liam Watts responded with a try that Mata’utia converted and then the full-back slotted his last penalty in the 68th minute for a 20-18 advantage.
When Matty English was tackled early without the ball, Russell was gifted another two points, setting up that frantic finish.
Castleford: Mata’utia; Clare, Minikin, Blair, Eden; Rankin, Trueman; Watts, McShane, Smith, Clarkson, McMeeken, Massey. Substitutes: Millington, Milner, Cook, Clark.
Huddersfield Giants: McIntosh; McGillvary, Turner, Wardle, I Senior; Gaskell, Russell; English, O’Brien, Matagi, Joe Wardle, Mellor, Murphy. Substitutes: Leeming, Clough, Lawrence, Ta’ai.
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield).