NO Luke Gale, no Ben Roberts, but still no stopping Castleford Tigers.
With nothing to play for on the table and missing their first-choice half-backs through illness and injury, league leaders Castleford produced one of the most remarkable performances of the season to win 38-20 at Wigan Warriors.
In the first half it was the Trueman Show, 18-year-old half Jake Trueman, on his full debut, setting up Castleford’s first try and scoring the next three as they took a 20-0 interval lead.
It was 26-0 soon afterwards, but Wigan cut the gap to just 10 points before Castleford restored order late on.
Castleford’s win kept alive Wakefield’s interest in the top-four race, but they will be eliminated if St Helens beat Salford Red Devils on Thursday to confirm their own play-offs place.
Hull need a point from Friday’s game at Castleford. If Tigers win that, Wigan will travel to Wakefield the following afternoon knowing victory would see them squeeze into fourth spot.
This has been the best season in Castleford’s history and coach Daryl Powell felt yesterday’s was one of their best wins.
“To be without both half-backs is hard for any team,” Powell said.
“I thought the first half was one of the most controlled performances we’ve had all year, regardless of who was playing.
“I thought defensively we were superb in the first half. We had a period in the second half when I’m not quite sure what we were trying to achieve, but I though all along if we could win this one it would be a huge, huge win for us and it was an outstanding performance for about 60 minutes.
“We had about 20 minutes of madness in there, but it is pretty tough to keep a team like Wigan quiet for 80.”
If Wigan thought Castleford, who were also without key forward Junior Moors, would roll over, they had a rude awakening.
Tigers got off to a flier and were 10-0 ahead inside 16 minutes, both tries coming from kicks close to Wigan’s line.
Trueman put in the first – on a free play – which Greg Eden touched down and then Adam Milner dabbed the ball over the line and the teenager was there to score.
The second try came after Tigers had twice opted to run a kickable penalty when Nathan Massey was taken out after he passed. The incident – involving Wigan’s Tony Clubb – was placed on report.
Trueman’s afternoon got better four minutes into the second quarter when he reacted quickly to dive over after Anthony Gelling had knocked down a pass by Mike McMeeken.
Castleford went 20-0 ahead through more magic from Trueman who dummied past Sam Tomkins to complete his hat-trick and McShane landed a second conversion.
Trueman was signed from Bradford Bulls late in the closed-season and Powell believes he has a huge future. “He looks comfortable,” said the coach. “You can see he has this level mapped out – and not too far down the track.
“He is a very good player with a lot of smart things about him. We are trying to get him to talk a bit more and that should give him a whole heap of confidence.”
Castleford were as impressive on defence as attack in the first half. Early on, McShane and McMeeken held up Frank Paul Nuuausala over the line and then McShane combined with Jake Webster to push Joe Burgess into touch in-goal.
Tigers added a fifth try just six minutes into the second half when Greg Minikin crossed from Webster’s pass and McShane converted from the touchline.
Castleford switched off when they were assured of the win against Leeds in their previous game and it was a similar story as – between the 53rd and 62nd minutes – Tom Davies and Sam Tomkins scored back-to-back tries and then Thomas Leuluai went over, George Williams converting twice, to make it 26-16.
Grant Millington and Jesse Sene-Lefao held Tony Clubb over the line with 14 minutes left and a try then would have set up a grandstand finish, but Michael Shenton stepped through the defence for a brilliant solo touchdown which put the result beyond doubt.
Wigan scored a consolation try through Willie Isa, but with seconds left Minikin ran on to Zak Hardaker’s kick from the base of a scrum and McShane added his fifth conversion after the hooter.
Wigan Warriors: S Tomkins, Davies, Gelling, Gildart, Burgess, Williams, Leuluai, Nuuausala, McIlorum, Clubb, Bateman, Farrell, J Tomkins. Substitutes: Sutton, Isa, Powell, Tautai.
Castleford Tigers: Hardaker, Minikin, Webster, Shenton, Eden, McShane, Trueman, Millington, Milner, Foster, O Holmes, McMeeken, Massey. Substitutes: Sene-Lefao, Cook, Springer, T Holmes.
Referee: B Thaler (Wakefield).