DARYL Clark reminded Super League once more of his innate class with a superb hat-trick last night to finally settle victory for Castleford Tigers at Widnes.
There are few more exhilarating sights in the sport than seeing the young hooker accelerate and weave his way around bemused defenders.
When he did just that, yet again, to score a superb 60m solo effort in the 62nd minute, the second try of his first hat-trick, Daryl Powell’s side could almost rest at last having opened up a 28-16 lead.
But Widnes – who had been 18-0 down inside the opening 11 minutes – were still furious after a controversial decision shortly before which proved a major turning point.
When Patrick Ah Van intercepted Luke Dorn’s pass and raced 90m, the robust winger thought he had scored a try that, if converted, would have levelled the game that had seemingly been out of his side’s reach.
However, to the ire of the home faithful, and bemusement of many, touch judge Robert Hicks informed referee Phil Bentham that the New Zealander had been offside when Castleford initially played the ball.
Replays showed he was yet home supporters will argue the rule could have been enforced on so many other occasions, too, but was not.
Nonetheless, it was the correct decision and, in essence, the vibrant visitors – despite being rocked at times – had too much class in their ranks.
They usurp Wigan Warriors in third, move to within two points of leaders St Helens and gain a welcome confidence boost ahead of playing Widnes again in the Challenge Cup semi-finals early next month.
Furthermore, Denis Betts’s side only had themselves to blame when Danny Galea spilled on the first tackle just 10m from Castleford’s line after Clark had scored that corruscating second, a brilliant run that had left Danny Tickle, Chris Dean and Ah Van all in his wake.
From that mistake, the visitors charged up field for captain Michael Shenton to score his second before, fittingly, Clark capitalised on another dropped Widnes pass to demonstrate his devastating pace from 60m once more to complete his treble seven minutes from time.
Dean gained some consolation towards the finish, but his side had been undone in that blistering opening spell when, with leaden-footed Widnes seemingly still in the dressing room preparing for the game, Castleford almost scored at will.
Luke Dorn, the veteran Australian enjoying such a great second stint with the club having re-joined from London Broncos, was the first to cross after a brilliant attacking dart from Jamie Ellis, the scrum-half preferred to Liam Finn last night by Powell.
Marc Sneyd, the on-loan stand-off from Salford Red Devils who this week confirmed he will be joining Hull FC in a £100,000 deal ahead of 2015, added the first of his six conversions and was immediately instrumental in adding their second try straight after.
It was his clever pass that put Shenton sprinting into open space from deep and Oli Holmes, the under-rated second-row, got up in support and just had enough legs to beat the cover defence to score between the posts.
Sneyd improved and shell-shocked Widnes were chasing shadows once more following a brilliant effort as Clark collected his 10th try of the campaign.
Kirk Dixon was the genesis of it all, though, the winger picking up a kick between his own posts and then breaking a raft of tackles to stride out up the middle before unleashing his pacey hooker on a untouched run from halfway.
But Widnes showed glimpses of what made them such a success earlier in the season – they have now won just once in five games – with tries from Paddy Flynn and Galea for Tickle’s conversions making it 18-12 only for Sneyd to deliver a brilliant chip and regather to set up Shenton for his first, leaving it 22-12 at the break.
When Rhys Hanbury arced clear early in the second period and kept Dorn guessing just long enough for Ah Van to power through the unbalanced full-back, it seemed Widnes could gain some momentum.
But Ah Van’s next effort was crucially denied and Clark, who, unfortunately for Castleford fans seems destined for a move to Warrington Wolves at the end of the season, had other ideas, too.
His side, however, are closing in on a deal for Melbourne Storm’s Ben Roberts, the 28-year-old Sydney-born stand-off who featured for Samoa in the 2013 World Cup and will serve as a quality replacement for Sneyd.
Widnes Vikings: Hanbury; Flynn, Dean, Phelps, Ah Van; Brown, Mellor; Gerrard, Clarke, Kavanagh, Galea, Tickle, Cahill. Substitutes: Isa, Leuluai, White, Allen.
Castleford Tigers: Dorn; Dixon, Channing, Shenton, Carney; Sneyd, Ellis; Lynch, Clark, Huby, Holmes, Hauraki, Millington. Substitutes: Milner, Massey, Jewitt, Carvell.
Referee: P Bentham (Warrington).