CASTLEFORD TIGERS’ hugely encouraging season ended with a third straight defeat last night.
Tigers gave a good account of themselves in a tense Super League elimination play-off and regained the pride lost during the previous week’s drubbing at St Helens, but the visitors were too strong in the end.
The 30-14 final scoreline was harsh on Tigers, who could not have given much more and were only two points behind going into the final quarter.
It was a compelling clash, tough, fast and ferocious, though the error count was too high for it to be a true classic.
Warrington led 10-4 at the break and extended that by two soon afterwards, but Cas stormed back and seemed to be gaining the upper hand until a try with 17 minutes left broke their resistance.
It was a disappointing end to the Cas careers of Marc Sneyd, Jamie Ellis, Daryl Clark, Weller Hauraki and Craig Huby, who are all leaving the club.
It has been a case of expect the unexpected with Tigers coach Daryl Powell’s team selections all year.
After half-back Sneyd was left out of the side which lost at St Helens six days earlier, the major surprise last night was the omission of scrum-half Liam Finn and winger Kirk Dixon being dropped to the bench.
Sneyd returned to partner Ellis is the halves and James Clare – unfortunate to lose his place to Justin Carney last week – was recalled on the right-wing.
Warrington-bound hooker Clark returned to the starting line-up, with Adam Milner among the substitutes.
After a couple of bangs to the head in recent matches, Jake Webster was left out for medical reasons, so Michael Channing started in the centres.
Lee Jewitt failed to recover from the injury which kept him out last week and Tigers’ problems up front intensified when Nathan Massey limped off after only 10 minutes. He didn’t return and was changed – and on crutches – by the start of the second half.
Warrington began on the front foot and took four minutes to go ahead. The charge-down is an underrated skill in the game and a positive rule change would be for it to no longer re-start the tackle count.
That wasn’t an issue on this occasion though as Ben Harrison did well to block Sneyd’s kick inside the Tigers half and Ryan Atkins was on hand to collect the rebound and stroll over unopposed. Stefan Ratchford added the extras.
Luke Dorn had already done well to defuse one Warrington attack with a fine take from a high kick and it took 10 minutes for Cas to get possession inside the visitors’ half.
That came thanks to Anthony England’s knock-on. Michael Shenton put in a good run and the pressure continued through a penalty, goal line drop out and another repeat set via a Warrington hand.
Huby managed to get over the line, but he was held up and eventually a fumble by Andy Lynch relieved the pressure. That was typical of an opening period when both sides made unnecessary errors with the ball as they bashed each other in defence.
Cas didn’t get another sight of the Warrington line until the 24th minute and that produced their only try of the opening half.
A terrific kick by Ellis was batted back by Clare and Ellis followed up to touch down, though Sneyd was off-target with his conversion attempt.
There have been signs this year that failures with the boot can affect the stand-off’s confidence. He knocked-on in the set from the re-start, Warrington ran the ball on the last and Joel Monaghan swooped over at the corner to make it 10-4, though Ratchford could not add the extras.
At that stage Warrington appeared to be gaining the upper hand, but some forceful runs out of defence by Carney and Dorn gained Tigers much-needed field position and they finished the half the stronger.
Monaghan proved he’s not just about scoring tries when he produced a stunning tackle on Michael Shenton. who seemed set to hit a gap from Dorn’s offload.
And twice in the final moments before the break Warrington players managed to knock the ball down when it seemed to be going wide to a Tigers player in a position to score.
Having battled their way back into a contest Tigers could have felt a shade unfortunate to go in six points down at the break and it remained that way until the 53rd minute.
In a nip and tuck start to the second period the closest either team came was when Chris Bridge was shoved into touch, Oliver Holmes leading the defensive posse, close to the flag, after Sneyd had been forced to concede a drop out. Soon after that Sneyd was penalised for interference on Ratchford and the No 6 – switched to full-back after Matty Russell was ruled out due to a severe facial injury – landed the goal from 40 metres out.
Opting to take the two was a sign of respect and an indication of how tight the game was at that stage, but Cas had an escape moments later.
Carney knocked on trying to field a kick, Cas were penalised from the scrum and Roy Asotasi thought he’d barged over from Ratchford’s pass, only for video referee Ben Thaler to rule otherwise. And instead of being 18-4 behind, Cas were suddenly only two points adrift as – following a penalty in the next set – crisp passing across the line reached Dorn and he dummied and went through a gap, making Sneyd’s conversion a formality.
Tigers had the wind in their sails, but they were quickly deflated when Ratchford’s round the man pass sent Myler dashing up the middle and Gareth O’Brien was in support to score.
The goal made it 18-10 with 17 minutes to go and Warrington killed the game with another touchdown almost immediately as Rhys Evans got over wide out in a penalty set.
Ratchford’s kick, which would have given Warrington a three-score cushion, was off-target, but he made amends with a penalty following Hauraki’s foul on Ratchford and then converted after Joel Monaghan went in for his second.
Cas could feel aggrieved at several decisions made by referee Phil Bentham, whose penalty count went 7-5 in the visitors’ favour. With five minutes left, after turning a blind eye to plenty of Warrington interference in the ruck, Bentham sin-binned Evans on the home line and Holmes put Shenton in for a deserved consolation try in the subsequent set.
Monaghan looked set to complete his hat-trick with a long-range interception, but Clark – with almost his last act as a Tigers player – chased back to prevent the try.
Castleford Tigers: Dorn, Clare, Channing, Shenton, Carney, Sneyd, Ellis, Lynch, Clark, Huby. Holmes, Hauraki, Massey. Subs (all used) Dixon, Milner, Millington, Wheeldon.
Warrington Wolves: Ratchford, J Monaghan, Bridge, Atkins, R Evans, O’Brien, Myler, Hill, M Monaghan, England, Laithwaite, Waterhouse, Harrison. Subs (all used) Higham, Asotasi, Currie, Wood.
Referee: Phil Bentham (Warrington).