Coach Daryl Powell described Castleford’s against-the-odds victory over St Helens as one of the best he has been involved in.
Their seventh straight win lifted Castleford four points clear at the top of Super League and underlined Powell’s contention that “something special” is happening at the club this season.
St Helens had not played since beating Wigan Warriors on May 25. Castleford had come through two games in that time and were expected to fade. Instead, after Saints made the better start, it was the home side who finished strongly, overturning a 12-4 half-time deficit.
Young half-back Tom Holmes was the match-winner, touching down from Greg Minikin’s grubber kick with eight minutes left.
But just as important were three try-saving tackles made by substitute winger Jy Hitchcox. He came off the bench early in the second half for his first Castleford appearance of the season following a knee injury which threatened to end his career.
Hooker Paul McShane and fellow forward Nathan Massey both produced a huge effort and winger Kieran Gill, who Hitchcox replaced, enjoyed a memorable debut, scoring Castleford’s first try.
Powell was bursting with pride after the game, even going so far as to hint it was one he didn’t expect his men to win.
England trio Zak Hardaker, Michael Shenton and Luke Gale were rested, along with Grant Millington and Adam Milner and Matt Cook missed out after being hurt in the win at Leigh a week ago.
“It is one of the biggest wins I’ve been involved in,” Powell said afterwards.
“The opposition have had a significant rest period and had nearly a full-strength team.
“We played about with our team a bit to try and keep players fresh and to come out with that kind of performance, I thought it was awesome.
“We had to dig in right at the end and the amount of scramble tackles to keep them out shows the character we’ve got and what we’ve become as a club.
“We’ve got genuine depth and genuine belief that we’ve got something special here.”
Saints opened the scoring through Mark Percival after 14 minutes.
Gill squeezed over at the corner for an unconverted try off Jake Webster’s pass five minutes before the interval, but Saints hit back almost immediately with a touchdown by Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook and Tommy Makinson’s second conversion.
Just before the hour Cas got back into it when Mike McMeeken threw a dummy and rampaged through a huge gap.
McShane’s conversion cut the gap to two points and set up a dramatic finish in which Tigers – who gave a debut to young half-back Jake Trueman off the bench – got exactly what they deserved.
Powell said: “The team selection was a risk, but we’ve been able to come out of it in a positive way.
“I’m not sure I expected it to be that positive, but I am massively pleased.
“We looked scratchy in patches, but we had a game to win and we did a great job.
“You want your players to turn up and do the job regardless of age or experience. It was magnificent.”
The league leaders’ shield already looks to be Castleford’s to lose, but Powell warned: “The key thing is not to get carried away.
“We don’t want to go into next week [Sunday’s home game against Warrington] thinking we’ve got a buffer.
“We’ve got to keep going with our standards and performance levels.”
Castleford Tigers: Eden, Gill, Webster, Monaghan, Minikin, Roberts, T Holmes, Lynch, McShane, Massey, Foster, Larroyer, Sene-Lefao. Substitutes: McMeeken, Moors, Hitchcox, Trueman.
St Helens: Makinson, Swift, Morgan, Percival, Grace, Lomax, Smith, Walmsley, Roby, Amor, Taia, Wilkin, Knowles. Substitutes: Lee, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Douglas, Thompson.
Referee: C Campbell (Widnes).