Head coach Daryl Powell had plenty of issues to deal with for the trip to Warrington Wolves including losing two players – Oli Holmes and Peter Mata’utia – to injuries before kick-off on the day of the game itself plus Niall Evalds in their final practice session.
In total, they had around a dozen first-teamers out of action and, with forced late changes including shifting second-row Jesse Sene-Lefao to centre, it was perhaps inevitable that they failed to overcome Steve Price’s side.
Nonetheless, there was plenty to cheer, not least the impressive performance of New Zealander prop Matagi off the bench.
He joined the club from Huddersfield Giants on a season-long loan in November but injured a calf in training on the eve of the campaign and subsequently missed the opening seven games.
However, the 33-year-old – unwanted as part of Ian Watson’s rebuild at Huddersfield – quickly made his mark here with a series of forceful carries and some excellent defensive work.
With regular props Liam Watts and Grant Millington on the absentee list, Powell – coaching against the club he will join for 2022 – was thankful for Matagi’s “great” display.
The former Parramatta Eels forward said: “I was grateful for my opportunity and glad to get out there and play with the boys.
“It’s been a long pre-season with injuries so I’m just really glad I got to run out there again.
“It was important to make some impact. But for me it’s just about trying to get better from today. I’ll go back to the drawing board, look at my own individual performance and get better from there to help the team.
“I’m disappointed with the result but I know we’ll come back stronger and better for it.”
Castleford suffered back-to-back defeats for the first time this season but Powell is hoping all three of the late withdrawals will be fit for Friday’s visit of Leeds Rhinos and Watts will also return from a two-game ban.
Full-back Evalds pulled up with a tight calf in their team run, second-row Holmes woke up with a trapped nerve in his neck on Saturday morning and centre Mata’utia was even named in the starting line-up but pulled out due to a back issue that had troubled him on the journey over.
It says plenty about the spirit of the hastily-reassembled visitors, though, that they were still in the contest on the hour mark, trailing just 16-10 having applied plenty of pressure at the start of the second period.
Stand-off Jake Trueman, who had also been a fitness doubt right up until kick-off, was excellent in pinning Warrington back, his short kicking game helping force five goalline drop-outs.
That Castleford – who scored first half tries via Trueman and Jordan Turner – could only convert one of those into tries was arguably their biggest downfall.
Warrington, largely at full strength, eventually took control in the final quarter, Gareth Widdop completing a hat-trick of tries as the stand-off continued to press his claims for a recall into Shaun Wane’s England squad.
Centre Toby King also added his second try, Wolves continually looking at exploiting Castleford’s right edge where Sene-Lefao found himself in unfamiliar territory, before Daryl Clark rounded off against his former club.
Josh Charnley was the other scorer in the first half, furnished by the excellent Stefan Ratchford who finished with five goals.
For Tigers, who face Warrington again in a Challenge Cup semi-final on Saturday week, makeshift winger Turner added his seventh try of the season late on.
By that point, hooker Paul McShane had departed with a triceps/shoulder issue but Powell is hoping that is not serious, the Man of Steel once more excelling.
Lewis Bienek was the player who came in from 18th man after Mata’utia’s late withdrawal.
On that frustrating injury, Matagi said: “It happened and it’s how you respond to it. It’s been a long time out but it’s good to be back and I’m just really enjoying my time with the boys now.
“It’s really good to be around them again and the staff and to try and build something here.”
On where the game was lost, the former Samoa international said: “We’ve got to look at ourselves. There’s no excuses.
“There was a few areas; I think we’ll have to look at our defence for next week against Leeds.”
Warrington Wolves: Ratchford; Thewlis, Mamo, King, Charnley; Austin, Widdop; Hill, D Clark, Cooper, Hughes, Currie, Philbin. Substitutes: J Clark, Mulhern, Davis, Butler.
Castleford Tigers: Clare; Olpherts, Sene-Lefao, Shenton, Turner; Trueman, Richardson; Massey, McShane, Smith, Griffin, Martin, Milner. Substitutes: Hepi, Matagi, Peachey, Bienek.
Referee: Chris Kendall (Huddersfield).
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