DESCRIBING his side’s start to the season as “slow-burning” in the build-up to this game, Castleford Tigers head coach Daryl Powell is unlikely to alter his view too much after it.
Although it looked at times yesterday like last year’s League Leaders’ Shield winners might start producing that form of old – there were glimpses – they never really did.
In reality, though, they did not have to against a woeful Salford Red Devils side.
The West Yorkshire club made it three successive wins with the minimum of fuss, easing into a 20-0 interval lead, but eventually found themselves being dragged down to the level of their opponents.
Castleford were unable to add any tries after the break as the game became increasingly scrappy.
They will certainly have to improve when Wigan Warriors – who ended Wakefield Trinity’s 100 per cent winning start yesterday – become the next side to arrive at Wheldon Road on Sunday.
In fairness, Powell’s side – with Grant Millington and Paul McShane leading the way – should really have been further ahead at the turnaround despite being down to 12 men for 10 minutes due to Oli Holmes’s yellow-card.
The second-row was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Salford’s Tyrone McCarthy in the 18th minute – an incident Salford coach Ian Watson deemed worthy of a red.
At that point, Castleford were 12-0 to the good but – such was the visitors’ ineptitude – Castleford actually extended that to 14-0 by the time he returned.
Watson’s side were abysmal, not just during that spell but throughout the entire first period, constantly either spilling the ball, making forward passes or fumbling kicks.
It was possible to count the number of times they reached a kick of their own on one hand.
All of which made life so easy for Powell’s side who, from their last outing against Hull FC more than a fortnight previously, saw ex-Hull KR prop James Green come in and make a decent impact off the bench.
Captain Michael Shenton opened the scoring as early as the fifth minute with a strong finish in the corner.
They soon added another. Benny Roberts claimed a – rare – kick behind his own line on the full, quickly restarted with a 20m tap and saw Greg Minikin unleash Shenton.
Although he was stopped, Jake Bibby made a mess of McShane’s grubber and James Clare – the winger making his ‘second’ debut for Tigers after rejoining from Leigh Centurions – mopped up.
Groggy McCarthy clearly was not right after Holmes’s ‘spear’ tackle; he dropped the ball in the next set as Salford continued to err before Gale added a penalty.
Even after Greg Johnson produced a remarkable tackle to deny Minikin a try on the winger’s 100th career appearance they still managed to mess things up, Josh Jones coughing up Gale’s harmless grubber to see the England scrum-half cross for a try of his own.
Gale improved all three of Castleford’s tries, but they were indebted to Roberts as the full-back denied Junior Sau with what Powell described as a “world-class” tackle as Salford did finally threaten just before the break.
The visitors, who have now lost four of their opening five games, actually returned for the second period with an improved attitude.
It was Sau, in fact, who got them off the mark after running a good line off Jack Littlejohn’s pass in the 51st minute, but Robert Lui fluffed the conversion attempt and then Sau had to depart soon after with a nasty head wound. On the hour mark, Millington and Salford’s Logan Tomkins both had to depart, too, to the sin-bin.
Tomkins was penalised for laying on and irritating the Australian in the tackle. When the hooker still did not get off Millington picked him up and dumped him on the floor, causing a melee.
Gale kicked the two points, but the game became more and more bitty, frustrations sporadically boiling over on both sides. Two great tackles from Clare off his wing denied Kris Welham before three times in one set Castleford held a Salford player up over the goalline but it was generally a low-quality second period.
Bibby did eventually cross late on for Salford’s second try but they look like they may be in for a long, hard season.
Castleford, on the other hand, are at least on the right track.
Meanwhile, Salford full-back Gareth O’Brien wasn’t selected yesterday as the club have reportedly accepted a cash bid for him from Toronto Wolfpack.
Castleford Tigers: Roberts; Minikin, Webster, Shenton, Clare; Ellis, Gale; Massey, McShane, Millington, Holmes, McMeeken, Foster. Substitutes: Milner, Cook, Sene-Lefao, Green.
Salford Red Devils: Evalds: Bibby, Welham, Sau, Johnson; Lui, Littlejohn; Griffin, Wood, Burgess, Jones, Hauraki, McCarthy. Substitutes: Tomkins,m Tasi, Nakubuwai, Flanagan.
Referee: Liam Moore (Leeds).