IT had to happen at some stage, but Castleford Tigers’ first defeat of the season was a shock.
After they led 6-0 and 12-4, a late drop goal by Gareth O’Brien condemned Castleford to a 13-12 loss at Salford Red Devils.
The hosts have specialised in late defeats this year, going down to last-gasp tries at Leeds Rhinos and Wakefield Trinity in games they could and should have won.
On this occasion they almost threw it away when a late error and then a penalty carried Castleford upfield in the frantic final few seconds, but the visitors could not find a way through.
Aided by the conditions, Salford did an excellent job of shutting down Castleford’s attacking threat.
Tigers never got into gear, despite tries at the start of each half and rarely put the home team under any real pressure.
Both teams defended strongly, but Salford had the better of the game overall and coach Daryl Powell had no complaints after seeing Castleford’s winning start end in their fifth game of the campaign.
“I thought Salford were superb,” conceded Powell. “They really defended us well.
“They came up with a smart gameplan and executed it well and we were poor.
“I thought they thoroughly deserved the win.”
Everything seemed to be going according to the script when Luke Gale touched down from his own kick and converted after just five minutes.
But that was one of only two attacks managed by Castleford in the opening period. Salford pressed strongly, but scored just one try when Ben Murdoch-Masila went over eight minutes before the break.
Michael Shenton’s pass which put Greg Eden across the line on the stroke of half-time was ruled forward, but that did not seem to matter when Greg Minikin showed remarkable strength to carry Justin Carney, Michael Dobson and O’Brien over with him early in the second period.
Powell described his winger’s ninth try of the year as “an unbelievable finish, awesome” and it should have set the foundation for another win.
Gale’s conversion opened a two-score gap which looked like being enough, but Salford dug in and a host of errors pinned Castleford in their own half.
The strong-running Murdoch-Masila charged over on 54 minutes, O’Brien converted and then leveled matters through a penalty goal with 13 left, after Mike McMeeken held on to Adam Walne.
Three minutes from time Eden knocked on at a tap restart 20 metres out and O’Brien – whose drop goal in last year’s million pound match kept Salford in Super League – landed the winning one-pointer in the resulting set.
“There’s quite a few lessons to learn for us,” said Powell.
“People were asking me in the week about going all season undefeated and it’s put that to bed pretty quickly!
“We just need to move on. There were some lessons for us and we need to learn them. Some of the boys have got some wising-up pretty quickly to do.
“I thought we were unrecognisable. Sometimes conditions dictate that; they got the opportunity and took it, so fair play.”
Castleford’s cause was not helped by injuries to Minikin and his centre Jake Webster. Minikin is a doubt for Sunday’s visit of Catalans Dragons due to a shoulder problem and Webster suffered concussion.
Powell said: “It was a blow losing two outside-backs, but that wasn’t the reason we lost.
“It was a tight game, a bit of an armwrestle and they just edged it. It’s our first real assignment and we’ve come up short so we’ve got to improve in a few areas.”
Salford coach Ian Watson named star signing Todd Carney among his substitutes for the first time, but the Australian stand-off was not used.
“It was one of those decisions I had to make and when ‘Gaz’ put the drop goal over I pulled him and I’ve just spoken to him and he’s good,” he said. “He’s just pleased we got the win.”
Salford Red Devils: O’Brien, Johnson, Welham, Sa’u, J Carney, Lui, Dobson, A Walne, Tomkins, Mossop, Murdoch-Masila, Griffin. Flanagan. Substitutes: Brining, Krasniqi, Kopczak. Unused T Carney.
Castleford Tigers: Hardaker, Minikin, Webster, Shenton, Eden,. Roberts, Gale, Lynch, McShane, Massey, Sene-Lefao, McMeeken, Milner Substitutes: Millington, Moors, Cook, Springer.
Referee: P Bentham (Warrington).