CASTLEFORD TIGERS had to dig deep to see off Salford Red Devils 24-20 in a hard-fought, tight and ultimately tense tussle at the Jungle.
Tigers seemed to have the game in the bag on a number of occasions, leading 12-0, 18-4 and 24-16, but Saford refused to throw in the towel and, in the end, the result was decided by kicks after the eight tries were shared.
Peter Mata’utia was the official man of the match, but Jake Trueman’s kicking game was pivotal for Tigers and Paul McShane and Liam Watts made their usual big contribution.
Long-serving forward Nathan Massey celebrated his new contract, keeping him at the club until the end of 2021, by scoring the opening try after seven minutes, running on to touch down Trueman’s grubber between the posts on the final tackle.
The try came on the back of a penalty and repeat set when a kick by Jordan Rankin – who converted – was fumbled.
Other than that, Salford gave as good as they got in the opening exchanges and Tigers found it difficult to get out of their half.
Their second try, on 19 minutes came out of the blue off a Salford blunder near their own line when Niall Evalds aimed a pass at Kris Welham, he slipped and Rankin scooped up the gift to nip over for a soft touchdown which he also converted.
Salford hit back on 26 minutes after a couple of penalties and Tigers errors in the home team’s half, the visitors moving the ball left for Jake Bibby to squeeze over at the corner from Evalds’ pass.
There was no conversion, but the the main talking point of the opening period came four minutes later when an altercation between McShane and Salford substitute Adam Walker sparked a bout of pushing and shoving.
Walker came off the bench to make his Salford debut after completing a drugs ban imposed in 2017 when he was playing for Wakefield Trinity.
Referee Robert Hicks sin-binned McShane for putting a hand in Walker’s face, placed the incident on report and awarded the penalty to Tigers.
Sets in Salford’s 20 were in short supply for Cas and when they got one just before the break it almost led to a try at the other end, Welham, intercepting near his own line with clear country ahead.
Crucuially, Greg Minikin got across to shut him down around halfway and then Adam Milner and Mata’utia managed to hold Joey Lussick up over the whitewash to preserve Castleford’s 12-4 lead.
Having survived 10 minutes with a man short, Tigers found an extra gear at the start of the second half to apply sustained pressure for the first time.
Kicks by Trueman and McShane forced drop-outs and the second of those led to an outstanding try for Greg Eden who got on the end of Michael Shenton’s pass after some superb handling across the line.
Rankin’s touchline conversion was just as good. It opened a three-score gap and was the difference between the sides just 10 minutes later.
Salford’s rally began on 52 minutes when Jansin Turgut stepped through Cas’ right-side defence, after nice handling by Jackson Hastings and Robert Tui and Lussick converted. That came in a penalty set as did the visitors’ third try moments later.
Ben Nakubuwai was held up over the line, but Lussick touched down from acting-half on the next play and also added the extras to make it a two-point ball game.
Eden had a touchdown ruled out for obstruction on the hour, but with 15 minutes left Tigers tapped a penalty in front of the posts and the attacking tactic worked as Jesse Sene-Lefao darted over off McShane’s pass.
Rankin’s conversion, from in front of the sticks, bounced away off a post, but he made amends with a long-range goal after Tigers’ third successive penalty moments later.
Bibby pulled a try back with four minutes left to set up a tense finish, but Lussick could not add the goal and Cas held on.
Castleford Tigers: Mata’utia, Minikin, Foster, Shenton., Eden, Trueman, Rankin, Watts, McShane, Moors, Sene-Lefao, Holmes, Massey. Subs Milner, Cook, Egodo, Clarkson.
Salford Red Devils: Evalds, Olpherts, Welham, Bibby, Sio, Lui, Hastings, Murray, Lussick, Dudson, Jones, Turgut, Flanagan. Subs Walker, Nakubuwai, Tomkins, Griffin.
Referee: Robert Hicks (Oldham).