OUTSTANDING Castleford Tigers are proving a point in the Super 8s.
No one gave them a hope after the regular season having finished sixth and off the pace, many expecting their season simply to peter out.
But demanding coach Daryl Powell urged them to dig deep and perform, show they can compete with the best, regardless of whether they could muster enough points to push on for the top-four.
Having started with a win at Hull FC last week, they followed that up with an even greater performance last night to stun Wigan Warriors who duly missed out on the chance to draw level with the Black and Whites in pole position.
Prolific winger Denny Solomona may have scored a hat-trick – taking his tally to 31 for the season the day after the club issued a strong statement he will not be sold to anyone – but if ever there was a win built on teamwork this was it.
The brilliant Australian forward Grant Millington led Castleford’s pack as they set about stunting Wigan’s renowned forwards, providing the base for the likes of Luke Dorn to show their class out the back.
Powell told his side to front up to the visitors’ niggling tactics and they did just that, finally beating them having lost on all three previous occasions this season.
Furthermore, having forged 26-12 ahead just before the hour mark, they defended heroically after the visitors scored back-to-back John Bateman and Lee Mossop tries to make it 26-22 with 13 minutes to go.
Having done that, with a series of lung-busting efforts, Ryan Hampshire – on a season-long loan from Wigan – fittingly raced in to seal the win in the 77th minute, Oli Holmes also adding a deserved try just before the hooter.
Castleford – now seven points adrift of fourth place with five games to go – opened the scoring with a try in the eighth minute, Dorn crabbing across his own 20m line from a scrum before unleashing Solomona, who had far too much pace for England full-back Sam Tomkins.
Luke Gale could not convert but, perhaps wisely, kicked a penalty on 13 minutes when Ryan Sutton collared second-row Andre Savelio. Hampshire, the makeshift winger, did brilliantly to deny Josh Charnley when the England wideman tried charging over him but was held up.
Castleford’s new-found resilience in defence was on show once more when Solomona did just enough in the same set to upset Anthony Gelling’s stride, the Cook Islander stepping in touch before touching down in the opposite corner.
Powell had brought four forwards on all at once after 20 minutes in Hull, a tactic that paid off.
Here, he just sent on three but it had a similar effect as his side scored again soon after. Gelling did well to shoot out of the line to close down Greg Minikin but he did not take into account the centre’s brute strength.
Minikin eventually shrugged off his opposite number and, though brought down close to the line, replacement hooker Paul McShane dummied over on the last tackle for Gale to make it 12-0.
Wigan continued to struggle with the hosts’ array of attacking threats yet they scored from nothing when Matty Smith’s pass went to ground and Sam Powell sniped over, Smith’s conversion leaving it 12-6 at the break.
Solomona grabbed his second when soaring high to take Gale’s kick and score seven minutes into the second period, only for his side to unusually switch off and immediately allow Ben Flower to rumble over between the posts.
Bateman produced a stunning tackle to deny Dorn scampering over but the let-off was only temporary. Granted, Solomona’s third was fortuitous, Minikin looked to have run behind his own man before making the final pass but Gale converted and tagged on a penalty.
Tomkins, warned for back-chatting Cobb, complained again for the umpteenth time, swiping out at Dorn as he intervened.
Dom Crosby and Holmes were sin-binned for fighting but Castleford earned the penalty that Gale kicked. Then came the Wigan rally but this time, unlike earlier this year, they did not have enough.
Castleford Tigers: Dorn; Hampshire, Crooks, Minikin, Solomona; Chase, Gale; Springer, Milner, Patrick, Holmes, Savelio, Moors. Substitutes: Jewitt, McShane, Cook, Millington.
Wigan Warriors: Tomkins; Manfredi, Gelling, Sarginson, Charnley; Williams, Smith; Crosby, Powell, Flower, Bateman, Isa, Sutton. Substitutes: Farrell, Mossop, Tautai, Nuuausala.
Referee: J Cobb (Manchester).