CASTLEFORD TIGERS brought Super League leaders and Challenge Cup finalists Hull FC to their knees with a ruthless display last night.
Daryl Powell’s side may be sixth in the table with little chance of making the top-four but he had urged them to show, as the Super 8s began, that they had the ability and mental strength to compete consistently against sides like Hull, who had reached Wembley with an epic performance versus Wigan Warriors a week earlier.
They did just that with an impressive showing – they led 20-0 after just 28 minutes with lacklustre FC only breaching their line in the last quarter – that bodes well for the remainder of the competition.
Granted, reaching the semi-final spots remains an invidious proposition for Castleford, who were well-served again by Luke Dorn and saw makeshift winger Ryan Hampshire cross twice as they scored six tries, given they remain seven points behind fourth-placed St Helens with just six games now to go.
Hull stay top, a point in front of Warrington Wolves who lost to Saints on Thursday, but after this tepid showing they will be seeking a much-improved performance at Widnes Vikings next Thursday.
They looked low on energy, lacked their usual crispness in possession and were too lax in defence too often.
Admittedly, they came to life towards the end when Steve Michaels, Danny Washbrook and Jamie Shaul crossed for three tries in 10 minutes, but it was far too late to rescue the game.
It is the second time Lee Radford’s side have lost to Castleford at the KCOM Stadium this season having also done so in February, with Leeds Rhinos and Wigan the only other sides to defeat them on home turf.
Hull were without Fetuli Talanoa and Mahe Fonua from that stirring Challenge Cup semi-final win due to illness and injury, respectively, while prop Liam Watts was rested.
In the reshuffle, Carlos Tuimavave switched from stand-off to centre, youngster Jordan Abdull coming in in the halves, while Curtis Naughton and Josh Bowden also benefitted with recalls, but things never clicked.
They were a pale shadow of their normal selves as their opponents – who gave a first start to Rangi Chase since his return to the club – built up that vital early advantage.
Greg Minikin, who looks an increasingly impressive Super League centre after his move from York City Knights, hinted at what was to come by scrambling over inside just three minutes after Denny Solomona had set up position with a surging 50m kick return.
There was then little quality from either side until Powell made a bold quadruple substitution in the 17th minute that sparked an instant dividend.
He replaced forwards Gadwin Springer, Larne Patrick, Junior Moors and Adam Milner with Grant Millington, Lee Jewitt, Matt Cook and Paul McShane and was rewarded with some fresh drive.
Dorn was held up after slicing through but, at the next play, Chase exploited an onrushing Hull defender for Ben Crooks to find Hampshire.
The on-loan Wigan Warriors stand-off has been playing in the unfamiliar wing position of late, scoring twice in the win against Catalans Dragons, and he showed class once more with a polished finish.
Castleford were unlucky not to add another when Solomona was penalised for tackling Steve Michaels in the air as the Hull winger spilled a kick on his own line but it was not long before Minikin crossed.
His side showed great adventure on the last tackle, spreading the ball from one side of the field to the other and back again.
Hampshire’s long pass finally gave Luke Gale space for Dorn, typically, to make the crucial final incision but Minikin’s strength to swat off defenders was notable, too.
Hull thought they had a way back with a rare attacking chance when Sika Manu profited from a spilled kick but video referee Ben Thaler agreed with on-field official Jack Smith that Tuimavave had infringed when challenging that kick.
Instead, from the penalty, Powell’s side worked their way up to the other end for Dorn to drop his shoulder and accelerate through yet more poor defence for their fourth try, Gale adding his second conversion.
Things did not get any better for Hull in the second period.
Just as Marc Sneyd, the former Castleford half-back, pepped them up with a jinking run, their opponents went the length of the field via Minikin and Oli Holmes.
Tuimavave eventually brought the second-row down with a desperate tackle but, later in the set, Chase came up with a quality pass as he headed towards the ground to find Hampshire for his second.
Hull had another ‘try’ ruled out, this time when Michaels placed a foot in touch, but the Australian winger did finally get them off the mark in the 63rd minute.
Washbrook and Shaul gave them hope but this was Castleford’s night and, fittingly, Milner confirmed victory in the final minutes when burrowing over.
Hull FC: Shaul; Michaels, Tuimavave, Yeaman, Naughton; Abdull, Sneyd; Taylor, Houghton, Bowden, Manu, Pritchard, Ellis. Substitutes: Minichiello, Green, Thompson, Washbrook.
Castleford Tigers: Dorn; Hampshire, Crooks, Minikin, Solomona; Chase, Gale; Springer, Milner, Patrick, Holmes, Savelio, Moors. Substitutes: Jewitt, McShane, Cook, Millington.
Referee: J Smith (Wigan).