Castleford Tigers 6 Catalans Dragons 16: Depleted Tigers suffer as leaders march on

WITH Covid still making its presence felt, a World Cup looming and the fixture list again putting teams under incredible strain, it was always likely to be a strange season; but never could Castleford Tigers coach Daryl Powell have imagined submitting a teamsheet with Liam Watts listed at stand-off.

Castleford Tigers' Michael Shenton is stopped by the Catalans defence. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Watts is one of the competition’s best players, but as what used to be known as a ‘front-rower’, he is noted for doing the tough stuff up the middle, not guiding a team around the pitch.

Realistically, when Watts was named in the number six role for last night’s 16-6 defeat by Catalans Dragons, it effectively meant playing with an extra forward, which is a smart tactic against the big and physical French team.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Danny Richardson was the only specialist half-back in Castleford’s 17, with Jake Trueman, Gareth O’Brien and Jordan Turner missing through injury and Paul McShane and Peter Mata’utia, both possible stand-ins, on international duty, but Powell had to name somebody there. Watts certainly looked keen, but the ball didn’t go his way and effectively, Richardson was on his own. That meant when Castleford got into a good attacking position, they lacked a cutting edge, though, to be fair, their time spent close to Catalans’ line was very limited.

Castleford Tigers' Danny Richardson looks for space. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe

The hosts had only one attacking opportunity in the opening 40 minutes, when Michael Shenton was tackled into touch a few metres out

Castleford raised the tempo in the second half, but despite more pressure they struggled to ask serious questions of Catalans’ defence, until the 77th minute when Derrell Olpherts scored their lone try, improved off the touchline by Richardson.

It was a fourth successive home defeat for Castleford, but they gave a decent account of themselves in the circumstances and in the end the difference between the sides was a couple of superb cut-out passes by Josh Drinkwater, to either wing and a highly dubious try which appeared to come off a forward pass.

Catalans were without Sam Tomkins and Tom Davies, who travelled by car from Perpignan to join the England camp for today’s international, thus avoiding the logistical issues which prevented All Stars coach Tim Sheens calling up any players from the French team.

Even with two of their form players unavailable, the league leaders fielded a much stronger line-up than Tigers, who – with forward Suaia Matagi involved in today’s Test and a lengthy casualty list – were missing 11.

The table-topping French side laboured to an 8-0 interval lead and did not get much better after that, though a try in the third quarter put the result out of Tigers’ reach.

Both teams made some soft errors and overall the game was more like one at the end of a spell of four games in two and a half weeks, rather than the start.

The visitors went ahead after seven minutes in simple fashion when Foud Yaha skipped past Olpherts from Drinkwater’s pass.

Dragons’ second try came on 20 minutes in controversial fashion when Mike McMeeken, playing against his former club for the first time, seemed to lose the ball forward and Samisoni Langi touched down.

Catalans missed two golden opportunities just before the interval, as Drinkwater knocked on a metre short, from Matt Whitley’s pass and then Arthur Mourgue got over the line from acting-half, but it was a double-movement.

A similar ruling went against Yaha soon after half-time, but Matthieu Laguerre, on the other flank, extended Catalans’ lead on 54 minutes, from a similar Drinkwater pass to the one which created the opening score.

James Maloney converted from the touchline to put three scores between the sides and Castleford never looked like clawing that back, though their late consolation score was well-worked, Olpherts going over from a smart pass by Adam Milner

Catalans completed the scoring in the final moments when a Castleford drop out failed to go 10 metres and Maloney booted the subsequent penalty.

Substitute hooker Jacques O’Neill was helped off late on, which is another concern for Castleford with Wembley just three weeks away.

Castleford Tigers: Evalds, Olpherts, Clare, Shenton, Graham, Watts, Richardson, Smith, Milner, Griffin, Holmes, Foster, Massey. Substitutes: O’Neill, Hepi, Bienek, Hall.

Catalans Dragons: Mourgue, Laguerre, Langi, Where, Yaha, Maloney, Drinkwater, Dudson, Da Costa, Bousquet, Jullien, McMeeken, Goudemand. Substitutes: Whitley, Belmas, Baitieri, Kasiano.

Referee: C Kendall (Huddersfield).