PROUD Castleford Tigers boss Daryl Powell hailed his depleted squad after they delivered a hard-fought win over Catalans Dragons.
He was missing 10 players yesterday through injury and Adam Milner’s suspension but it did not deter them as they overcome adversity to deliver victory.
Castleford were 20-0 up just before the break and, though the French side came back, they showed great character to hold on.
Tigers had seen stand-off Benny Roberts withdraw with a hamstring problem yesterday morning and then winger Denny Solomona, set for his comeback after almost three months out, felt his old knee injury flare up in the warm-up, too.
After such disruption and depletion – three Academy players were included – when Catalans Dragons roared back into the game to get to 20-18 just before the hour mark, Castleford could easily have fallen away against such powerful and experienced opponents.
That they didn’t was part down to good fortune and part down to sheer guts and resilience.
Catalans, who have won away from home just once this year, had a glorious chance to strike at that point but Morgan Escare, the dashing full-back who broke clear, gave an awful pass to Zeb Taia when the line was begging.
Instead, moments later, Michael Shenton, Castleford’s influential captain, scored at the other end to give his side some breathing space. It was still hairy, though.
“There were turning points in the game, but that (Escare pass to ground) was one of many,” said Powell.
“Overall, I thought we deserved to win the game.
“We couldn’t quite put them away, and even when we are 12 up, we concede a dumb one at the end.
“But I’ve just walked through the corridor in the changing rooms and looked at all the players who weren’t playing, and there’s so much quality there not in our side.
“It was a crazy game but we’ve done really well with late withdrawals and three Academy kids in who all did a good job.
“We’re conceding some sloppy tries at the moment that made it closer than it should have been but we did lots of good things in attack and, at some point, we’re going to be an outstanding team.”
The victory, with scrum-half Luke Gale superb directing his side around the park, sees Castleford up to fifth.
Remarkably, considering the high number of points in this game, there was no scoring until the 24th minute when Ashley Gibson crossed from the first of Gale’s excellent long passes.
Channing, who came in for Solomona, was the next beneficiary before Gale’s lovely inside pass sent Grant Millington crashing over.
Gale had added a penalty, too, and converted all three scores after his side had absorbed plenty of early Catalans pressure. Conceding a try to Fouad Yaha on the hooter meant Scott Dureau could make it 20-6 and offer the visitors a way back in.
They duly took it as Castleford – who gave a debut to former Leeds Rhinos prop Ryan Bailey and 19-year-old hooker Tom Holmes – started the second period scrappily to allow Benjamin Garcia the first two tries of his hat-trick, Andy Lynch unusually spilling near his own line.
Then came Escare’s gaffe before Shenton’s crucial score but there was still more self-destruction occurring as Scott Moore gave away a pointless penalty to gift more ground and see Dureau’s kick badly mis-controlled by Gibson, Taia profiting for Dureau’s kick to make it 28-24.
A fine try from Jordan Tansey after good work from Shenton, Ash Robson and Liam Finn, eased nerves again and Moore atoned for his earlier error by bundling over in the 77th minute.
There was still time for Garcia to complete his hat-trick but it was futile for the Frenchmen.
For Castleford, Academy prop Will Maher delivered two good stints up front and Bailey looked in decent nick, moreso in his second spell, while youngster Holmes, the club’s Under 19s captain, understandably perhaps, only got a brief cameo at the end.
Powell said: “I wanted to get Tom on earlier than I did, but that last five minutes will have been good for him.
“We worked hard for each other, and generally we were pretty good.
“We had to do that, because we still made some sloppy errors.
“We are scraping wins though. We have won four out of our last five, and it is not always pretty but we are getting a winning mentality.
“We have a tough game on Friday at Wigan before the cup break. We need to keep improving, and that will be massively tough.”
Castleford Tigers: Tansey; Channing, Gibson, Shenton, Robson; Finn, Gale; Lynch, Moore, Bailey, O Holmes, Mariano, Massey: Substitutes: Millington, Boyle, Maher, T Holmes.
Catalans Dragons: Esacre; Oldfield, Cardace, Tonga, Yaha; Bosc, Dureau; Anderson, Henderson, Casty, Taia, Whitehead, Baitieri. Substitutes: Pelisser, Garcia, Bousquet, Springer.
Referee: Robert Hicks (Oldham).