LAST SEASON Castleford Tigers saved their worst game of the year for the biggest fixture and they essentially repeated the feat again last night.
However, whereas 12 months ago they came badly short in the Super League Grand Final against Leeds Rhinos, this time it was at the semi-final stage as they spluttered against a supreme Wigan Warriors team.
The West Yorkshire club, who finished third just behind their opponents, always knew this would be a difficult task given Shaun Wane’s side entered on the back of an eight-match winning run.
However, they then lacked poise, control and ideas, making far too many errors and allowing their discipline to wane, too, to frustratingly see another season of promise wilt away. Their long wait for a maiden league title goes on.
Warrington Wolves stunned favourites St Helens last night but there would be no repeat at the DW Stadium as Wigan marched on to meet Warrington in next Saturday’s showpiece at Old Trafford, just as they did in 2013 and 2016.
Castleford looked flustered almost from the ninth minute when Luke Gale, their England scrum-half, prompted a melee following a swinging high tackle on Wigan winger Dom Manfredi.
Tommy Leuluai, in his 250th match for Wigan, splintered them in the next set for the game’s first try and, in all honesty, the visitors never found enough calm to deliver their usual high-class fare.
That said, they were not allowed to do so mainly down to the steeliness of Wigan’s brilliantly-marshalled defence; Wane is leaving after eight years at the end of this campaign and you could sense his fired-up squad want to send him out on a high.
Remarkably, it was the second week running Castleford had been kept pointless after falling 26-0 at St Helens and they badly missed the control of Jake Trueman, the teenage half-back who broke a hand in that contest.
Fittingly, Sam Tomkins - in his final home game for Wigan before leaving for Catalans - got the try that essentially put them on their way to Old Trafford again.
The full-back, recalled to the England squad this week after a four-year absence, got on the outside of Gale from 15m out to dive in in the 47th minute.
He missed the conversion attempt to it remained just 11-0 but, even by that narrow margin and with so much time left, you still sensed they would have too much for this Castleford team.
They had conceded that score poorly; Wigan should have been dropping out at the other end of the field but Manfredi was somehow allowed to escape from behind his own goalline when there was plenty of pressure from Gale’s grubber.
Gale was incensed with his colleagues. Twp penalties later - discipline was a big issue - he will have been incensed with himself as Tomkins cruised past.
Castleford did create chances but Wigan’s defence were superb especially their right-edge; if Michael Shenton ever did escape his oppositie centre Oliver Gildart, John Bateman or Tommy Leuluai wold invariably be there to smash into the Tigers captain.
Joe Wardle had a chance but his final pass was forward to James Clare before Greg Eden had their best opportunity of the evening.
It was the sort the prolific winger normally mops up - tight in the left corner - but not even he could evade the swarming presence of not one, not two but three tireless cover defenders.
At the other, George Williams bombed a chance for Wigan but Tomkins was able to come away with the 64th minute penalty and he sealed it with another drop goal in the final minute.
Still, Castleford will be kicking themselves especially about their first half performance.
The hosts never really threatened after Leuluai’s try, a Ben Flower breakaway from the restart their only worrying moment.
In contrast, Castleford had ample possession and chances to build pressure but too often simply wasted it.
For any sort of fixture, let alone a semi-final, their profligacy was atrocious.
Adam Milner, for instance, fully deserved his England call-up earlier this week but last night the loose forward coughed the ball with no one near him on two occasions.
He was not alone. Nathan Massey blundered to gift Wigan position for that first try.
Just when Powell’s side forced a drop-out to apply some tension on Wigan’s defence, Liam Watts carried it back with real venom only to spill it in collision on the first tackle.
Gale put in an threatless kick on the third tackle, Eden put in a needless kick on the fourth tackle. On and on it went.
Wigan were no better. They kept giving the ball back to Castleford, Joe Greenwood twice gifting it to them and captain Sean O’Loughlin being robbed one-on-one by the returning Oli Holmes.
Paul McShane was the nearest the West Yorkshire club came to scoring in that first period but even that was hard to watch.
Wigan had spilled Gale’s drilled grubber to leave Castleford in prime position 10m out and with another six tackles to go.
McShane tried muscling over on the second - he had every right to - but the ball squirmed out in doing so. Chance gone.
Tomkins missed one penalty attempt but, after Milner’s second error, his side worked to the posts and, with just seconds of the half remaining, he calmly slotted the drop goal for that 7-0 advantage. They were half way there.
Wigan Warriors: Tomkins; Manfredi, Gildart, Sarginson, Davies; Williams, Leuluai; Navarette, Powell, Flower, Greenwood, Bateman, O’Loughlin. Substitutes: Escare, Sutton, Clubb, Farrell.
Castleford Tigers: Mata’utia; Clare, Wardle, Shenton, Eden; Roberts, Gale; Watts, McShane, Millington, Holmes, McMeeken, Massey. Substitutes: Webster, Milner, Sene-Lefao.
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield).