There was that feeling after Daryl Powell’s men, having trailed 22-6 and 32-18, staged a remarkable escape to record an extra-time win at Hull KR in their opening tie.
And the prospect of a fairytale finale for Powell, who will join Warrington Wolves next year, came a step closer when they repeated the feat in an equally dramatic quarter-final at Headingley, Gareth O’Brien, for the second successive round, sending them through with a golden point drop goal.
Extra-time was relatively straightforward on this occasion, the former Salford man nailing his first attempt in the 83rd minute. It had taken him 19 minutes, after an incredible series of misses from both teams, to seal it in the previous game.
In normal time, though, the boot was on the other foot. At Hull KR, Castleford scored an equalising try on the final play; a month later, Salford’s Lee Mossop forced his way over the line with 12 seconds remaining and Harvey Livett landed his third conversion of the game after the hooter had sounded.
Castleford, who trailed twice, had been hanging on to an 18-12 lead a man short, having being reduced to 11 men for a brief spell when Liam Watts joined Gareth O’Brien in the sin-bin.
O’Brien was shown the yellow card for obstructing Chris Atkin as the Salford man chased a kick near Castleford’s line and Watts followed him following a late challenge on Elijah Taylor.
O’Brien, who started the game on the bench, redeemed himself in extra-time, but the real hero in Tigers’ side was Man of Steel Paul McShane.
He provided the final pass for two of Castleford’s three tries and then not only charged down Kevin Brown’s attempted drop goal at the end of the first set in extra-time, but also managed to run on and pick up the ball, setting up possession for O’Brien’s winner.
Added to that were some vital defensive contributions, including holding up Mossop over Tigers’ line and hacking a ball dead late on.
Castleford will have to be better, particularly smarter, to beat Warrington in next month’s semi-final, but their spirit and will to win can’t be questioned.
The defensive effort following the sin-binnings was remarkable, but Mossop’s equalising try came after O’Brien was penalised for a high tackle near his Salford’s line with less than two minutes on the clock.
Castleford rode their luck at times. Late in the second half video official Liam Moore upheld referee Ben Thaler’s on-field call of no try when Kevin Brown forced his way over the line, though replays suggested the ball had brushed the turf.
But Cup-winning teams often have incidents such as that to look back on and it was credit to Castleford’s character they could get their chins off the floor after conceding on the last play of normal time.
Salford’s half-backs, Tui Lolohea and Brown, were a threat all game, but Tigers’ pivotal players also stood up.
Powell showed faith in one of the club’s youngsters, 20-year-old Brad Martin and he made a solid contribution off the bench.
Salford matched Castleford in most areas, but made too many mistakes and put themselves under pressure at crucial times.
They led 6-0 through a Livett touchdown, after Derrell Olpherts and Niall Evalds failed to deal with Brown’s kick.
Dan Smith plunged over in response, then Livett crossed again, off a pass by James Greenwood.
The scores were levelled again on the final play of the opening period when Watts and Grant Millington carved out an opening for Peter Mata’utia and Danny Richardson booted his second goal. O’Brien converted from the touchline after a moment of magic from McShane set up a Michael Shenton try with 20 minutes left.
Castleford Tigers: Evalds, Olpherts, Mata’utia, Shenton, Turner, Trueman, Richardson, Griffin, McShane, Massey, Holmes, Millington, Milner. Substitutes: Watts, Smith, Martin, O’Brien.
Salford: Sarginson, Sio, Watkins, Livett, Williams, Lolohea, Brown, Mossop, Addy, Ikahihifo, Greenwood, Pauli, Taylor. Substitutes: Lannon, Burke, Atkins, Ormondroyd.
Referee: B Thaler (Wakefield).
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