GUTTED Castleford Tigers’ season effectively came to an agonising close last night.
Their top-four hopes are gone after a 42-38 defeat to champions St Helens but that doesn’t tell half the story.
Daryl Powell’s side were behind 18-0 inside just 15 minutes but showed tremendous character to recover and actually lead 24-18 early in the second half.
They produced a remarkable comeback with converted tries from the excellent Luke Dorn (2) and dazzling Benny Roberts to draw level just before half-time and then Roberts skipped away early in the second half for Luke Gale to add his fourth goal and an incredulous advantage.
However, Mark Percival added his second converted try soon after and, though, Gale’s penalty edged Castleford in front once more, the unfortunate Roberts suffered a wicked bounce at the restart to knock-on and give Saints an instant shot. Adam Quinlan scythed through wide out but, controversially, the video officials somehow failed to spot a blatant obstruction on the home defence and, so, the visitors gained a 57th minute lead they would never relinquish.
Tommy Makinson swiftly added another Saints try and, though Denny Solomona scored following Gale’s fine pass, there would be no late heroics at Wheldon Road as Swift, instead, completed his hat-trick.
Junior Moors edged over in the 79th minute to set up a frantic finish but there was no repeat of the game here in June when Roberts kicked a match-winning drop goal in the final second.
Saints moved up to third six points clear of Powell’s side in fifth with just two games to go while fourth-placed Huddersfield, though only four points ahead, host Warrington on Sunday and have a hugely superior points difference.
Castleford’s run-in is tough, too, at leaders Leeds Rhinos next Thursday and second-placed Wigan Warriors the following Friday.
Dorn’s two tries were quality efforts as the Australian full-back showed brilliant footwork and Roberts, the Samoa star playing in his favoured No6 role, also came up with some magic at times.
Castleford had welcomed back captain Michael Shenton and Oli Holmes but were without Nathan Massey, Matt Cook, Jake Webster and, of course, Justin Carney still suspended by the club following his much-publicised altercation with a team-mat.
Grant Millington made his 100th appearance for Tigers while Scott Wheeldon celebrated his 200th Super League game.
Powell said: “The boys worked really hard and they’ve been a credit to the club all year.
“We’ve a couple of tough games to go but we were a bit sloppy defensively tonight and conceded too many points.
“Hopefully we’ll finish fifth. We weren’t too far away at the end but we’ve lost our last three games and that’s hugely disappointing “We’ve got to move on and improve and look to get results at Leeds and Wigan.”
Castleford Tigers: Dorn; Gibson, McMeeken, Shenton, Solomona; Roberts, Gale; Lynch, Milner, Millington, Moors, Holmes, Wheeldon. Substitutes: Boyle, Maher, Springer, McShane.
St Helens: Quinlan; Makinson, Percival, Jones, Swift; Burns, Walsh; Amor, Roby, Walmsley, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Wilkin, Turner. Substitutes: Richards, Greenwood, Flanagan, Thompson.
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield).