IF EVER anyone needs a salutary lesson about the perils of risking a trip in rugby league, they should have a discreet word with Castleford Tigers’ Mike McMeeken.
The second-row, playing centre last night in the absence of injured captain Michael Shenton, stuck out a stray leg to halt the piercing Huddersfield Giants player Joe Wardle’s progress in the 18th minute.
Castleford were leading 10-0 at the time yet, by the time the offender returned from his spell in the sin-bin, the stunned visitors were 20-10 behind having conceded four tries against ruthless opponents.
During the entire 10-minute period McMeeken was off the field, Castleford never actually held possession of the ball and only touched it to kick-off and restart the game after witnessing another try conceded.
Despite a valiant effort, they never recovered and, instead, Huddersfield secured a third successive Super 8s win which, in effect, gives them a huge advantage in the battle for a top-four place and a semi-final spot.
Paul Anderson’s side – with devastating winger Jermaine McGillvary taking his try tally to 21 for the season, level at the top with Wigan’s Joe Burgess and Hull FC’s Tom Lineham, plus Eorl Crabtree making his 400th game for the club – remain third.
However, they are now four points ahead of fifth-place Castleford with just three games to go.
Fourth-placed St Helens are two behind Huddersfield but head to leaders Leeds Rhinos tonight – and then to Castleford for what could almost be a fourth-place decider next Thursday.
Tripping, of course, used to be a red-card offence.
It is a foul which has been rare for years but, in recent weeks in Super League, has occurred a few times if not always being penalised.
One thing is for sure, McMeeken will think twice about committing it again any time soon.
His side were already going to face an arduous test against their West Yorkshire rivals given they were without not only Shenton but Justin Carney, too, the prolific winger who is suspended by the club ahead of a disciplinary after an off-the-field matter with a team-mate.
The third member of their left-edge, the workaholic second-row Oli Holmes, was also missing through illness.
It was no surprise that Huddersfield routinely exposed the replacement trio, particularly centre Mike Channing and winger Denny Solomona, in that blistering spell, Leroy Cudjoe and McGillvary starring.
However, the visitors had started well after Luke Gale stepped over for a try he converted and Benny Roberts weaved his magic from stand-off, crabbing crossfield to send Ashley Gibson in for a 10-0 advantage after just 15 minutes.
But from McMeeken’s penalty, former Castleford prop Craig Huby delivered a lovely ball to send Ukuma Ta’ai over untouched and, after Channing went needlessly high on McGillvary in the restart set, Huddersfield were in again.
Wardle angled infield from the left before finding Jack Hughes who showed quick hands for Cudjoe to furnish McGillvary.
Cudjoe’s delicious short pass sent McGillvary racing 70m down the right touchline for his second, Solomona and then full-back Luke Dorn both helpless.
Jake Connor added the fourth try of that purple patch and perhaps the best, although Ta’ai’s final pass in a flowing move involving him twice, Aaron Murphy and Scott Grix did look forward.
McMeeken returned for the restart in what must be one of the most damaging 10-minute breathers in the sport’s history.
Wardle’s fine pass put Aaron Murphy over for another before the break and Castleford were fortunate that their former player Danny Brough had a bad night with the boot, slotting just two conversions from five attempts.
This meant when Gale teased the Huddersfield defence early in the second half for Dorn to slide over wide out, his kick suddenly saw Castleford – with Nathan Massey putting in an immense display – trail just 24-16. Roberts produced some more class with a silky try direct from a 20m scrum on the hour, leaving Huddersfield defenders grabbing thin air as he dummied and dummied again before straightening up to make it 24-20.
Anderson’s side, of course, have been known to wobble at times this campaign.
However, they steadied themselves via a try from, typically, the excellent Wardle, Jamie Ellis scrambled over against the club he left last year and Crabtree got a fitting try to mark his milestone game, Ellis taking over kicking duties to slot two goals.
Solomona raced down the touchline in spectacular style with the final play to narrow the deficit, Gale adding the kick, but they were always playing catch-up after McMeeken’s indiscretion.
Huddersfield Giants: Grix; McGillvary, Cudjoe, Connor, Murphy; Brough, Ellis; Crabtree, Robinson, Huby, Wardle, Hughes, Ta’ai. Substitutes: Lawrence, Kopczak, Leeming, Smith.
Castleford Tigers: Dorn; Gibson, McMeeken, Channing, Solomona; Roberts, Gale; Lynch, Milner, Wheeldon, Millington, Moors, Massey. Substitutes: Cook, Boyke, Springer, McShane.
Referee: Robert Hicks (Oldham).