Israel Folau - how Catalans Dragons’ controversial figure and expectant father bested Castleford Tigers

THERE was a lot of baby talk surrounding Castleford Tigers’ game with Catalans Dragons which is perhaps surprising at the best of times but especially so given it was the first full round of Super League since lockdown.

Catalans' Israel Folau runs in for a try. (Picture: Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

In one of those little quirks that sometimes occur, though, both sides had a player awaiting big news.

Congratulations to Nathan Massey and his wife Jemma, who saw the arrival of their baby Rebal just before 11am on the day of the game.

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Understandably, having been up since the early hours, the Castleford loose-forward did not feature at Emerald Headingley.

How they missed his industry, steeliness and work-rate as the French side eventually took such firm control.

However, it later emerged that the wife of Catalans centre Israel Folau is also due to give birth and, according to his head coach, Steve McNamara, he almost did not get on the plane for the trip.

How Castleford will have wished he had opted to stay in the south of France; the dual-code Australian international was simply phenomenal in Leeds.

Folau, 31, came up with a series of stellar, world-class plays to help initially overhaul Tigers’ 14-0 lead and then leave them staring at a sobering defeat.

Castleford's Greg Eden is tackled by Catalans' Joel Tomkins and Benjamin Garcia. (Picture: SWPix.com)

Already a controversial signing given his past comments on social media, he caused a further furore the previous Sunday by not taking a knee in support of the Black Lives Matter movement when Catalans restarted with a dismal 34-6 defeat to St Helens.

Folau did the same on Saturday but, this time, team-mates Sam Moa and Benjamin Jullien also opted to join him.

It was Castleford who started brightest, though, with captain Michael Shenton crossing for two tries, both converted by Danny Richardson, who also added a penalty before Folau showed his first sign of brilliance to get on the outside of Shenton and send Tom Davies speeding in.

But, at 14-4, Tigers – also without leading prop Liam Watts owing to a bizarre saw accident – had a glorious chance to take firm control on the half-hour mark.

Jesse Sene-Lefao spilled a rudimentary pass when James Clare was waiting to capitalise and it proved the turning point

Instead of potentially being 20-4 ahead, in the next set, Castleford centre Peter Mata’utia was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Samson Langi and Alrix Da Costa exposed some ordinary goalline defence to burrow over.

James Maloney slotted the first of six kicks and Catalans scored back to back when the elegant Folau eased clear of Shenton once more from halfway and then bumped off hapless full-back Greg Eden to finish a magical effort.

Suddenly, with prop Sam Kasiano also having such an influence off the bench, McNamara’s side were 16-14 ahead at the break.

Nevertheless, Castleford will still be maddened this morning at seeing how the game then got away from them given yet more needless, self-inflicted pain.

Derrell Olpherts made a horrendous error as he tried to escape from behind his own goalline, throwing the ball to no-one at the start of the second period, meaning Ben Garcia has never scored a simpler try. Yet, even then the Tigers had a perfect opportunity to respond only to err once more, Clare this time making a hash of things failing to collect Jake Trueman’s well-spotted chip to the corner.

It summed up their day; Trueman had also fumbled close to the Catalans line and on the first tackle after his side had been awarded a ‘six again’ call and there was not enough poise at the crucial moments. That, of course, can be explained in part to this being their first game in five months but coach Daryl Powell was still left irritated.

He could only watch as Folau rose majestically to take a kick and feed Joel Tomkins for another try before Tigers somehow strayed offside attempting a short restart offering Folau the chance to also stylishly put Davies in for his second. Jason Baitieri then rounded things off. On the positive, it was a welcome sight seeing Alex Foster successfully play his first game in 18 months after injury while Tyla Hepi and Jacques O’Neill both brought punch off the bench.

Eden, the previously prolific winger who had fallen down the pecking order before lockdown, got first chance at replacing the departed Jordan Rankin at full-back but gave a mixed display.

The same could not be said about the genius Folau.

Castleford Tigers: Eden; Olpherts, Mata’utia, Shenton, Clare; Trueman, Richardson; Griffin, McShane, Millington, McMeeken, Holmes, Milner. Substitutes: Sene-Lefao, Foster, O’Neill, Hepi.

Catalans Dragons: Mourgue, Davies, Folau, Langi, Yaha; Maloney, Drinkwater; Bousquet, Garcia, Moa, Whitley, J Tomkins, Casty. Substitutes: Da Costa, Jullien, Baitieri, Kasiano.

Referee: R Hicks (Oldham).

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