FOR HALF-BACK/HOOKER Jamie Ellis, Castleford Tigers’ Tetley’s Challenge Cup semi-final win over Widnes Vikings was extra-sweet.
Ellis made his name in the professional game’s second tier with Leigh Centurions, whose Sports Village base was the venue for the crucial tie two days ago.
After beginning his career at hometown club St Helens and then having an unsuccessful stint at Hull, Ellis has been a fringe player with Tigers for much of the past 12 months and he admitted the chance to play – and score – in a Cup semi-final was a “dream come true”.
Ellis, 24, described the feeling at the end of Tigers’ 28-6 win as “terrific” and he said: “You always think about it when you are a kid and I had never played in a big game like that before.
“I’ve played in the Championship and won the Northern Rail Cup with Leigh, so to go back there and win a Challenge Cup semi-final to get to Wembley is just unbelievable. I don’t think it has sunk in yet.”
Ellis, who is expected to join Huddersfield Giants next season, was preferred in Tigers’ semi-final line-up to Adam Milner as the back-up hooker.
“I’ve been in and out of the side,” Ellis reflected.
“I didn’t think I’d make the team for this really, but I got a chance last week against London and then it was between me and Adam.
“I knew earlier in the week I’d be playing and just couldn’t wait for it.”
Ellis justified his selection by touching down seven minutes into the second half for a score which killed off any prospect of a Widnes fightback after Cas had led 14-0 at the interval.
“It’s nice to get on the scoresheet – and to get a 40/20 too – but it was an all-round performance really,” he said.
“Everyone played well and that makes it easier for me as well.”
Ellis felt his try was the one which confirmed it would be Tigers’ day.
“I think it was,” he said. “But we started again 0-0 at half-time and just knew we had to keep completing our sets.
“It was a bit wet, so just finishing down there in their end was key and our kicking game was vital to doing that.”
Ellis joined Tigers as a half-back, but said he is happy to fill in at hooker – and he hailed Tigers’ no9 Daryl Clark, who was also among Sunday’s try scorers, as one of the most exciting talents in the British game.
“I don’t mind it,” he said of the hooking role. “As long as I’m playing I don’t mind where I play. It’s good and I am enjoying it.
“As for Daryl, he is a freak, a top player.
“He is up there for Man of Steel and he’s by far one of the best players in the league. He’s good to play with.
“He was like that last year as well, but this year he’s just gone to another level.
“Everyone knew he had the talent and he’s just gone and shown it this year.”
Tigers’ semi-final victory came despite the loss of Craig Huby midway through the first half.
The in-form prop needed hospital treatment during the game on a dislocated elbow, leaving Tigers down to only three available substitutes.
They were also without knee injury victim Craig Huby and suspended duo Weller Hauraki and Justin Carney.
But Ellis said: “Our squad this year has so much strength in depth.
“If anyone comes in you know they will do a good job. We’re happy to take the win.”
That squad strength means coach Daryl Powell has some thinking to do ahead of Tigers’ trip to Warringtoin Wolves in Friday night.
It is a crunch fixture for Cas who are fourth in First Utility Super League, just two points off top spot and one place and two points above their next opponents.
But with a Challenge Cup final looming just eight days after the trip to HJ Stadium, Powell will be desperate to avoid more injuries and could be tempted to rotate his squad.
Ellis is keen to play in a bid to cement his place in the Wembley squad.
He said: “We’ll see what team Daryl picks.
“You want to play well in every game, but hopefully I will and I’ll get that chance to play at Wembley.”
Tigers’ allocation of tickets for the final went on sale yesterday and the town is already buzzing at the prospect of an all West Yorkshire showdown with arch rivals Leeds Rhinos.
It’s going to be a big occasion,” Ellis predicted.
“Cas fans were brilliant on Sunday and they will be there in numbers again. It’s going to be a great game.”
Leeds will be appearing in their fourth Cup final in five seasons.
But Ellis added: “We’ll be thinking about us more than them. It was all about us on Sunday and we’ll just go out there and do our best.”
Meanwhile, Widnes’ former Castleford player Willie Isa has been charged with two disciplinary offences following incidents in the semi-final.
The RFL’s match review panel charged Isa with Grade B dangerous contact on Tigers’ Kirk Dixon in the 62nd minute and a similar offence on Andy Lynch moments later.
Isa does not have the option of an early guilty plea and will appear before the RFL disciplinary panel tonight.