Other than a decisive spell of eight minutes midway through the second period in which Castleford posted three unanswered tries, there was little difference between two of Rugby League’s great rivals in a ‘friendly’, on a snowbound pitch, played in a committed manner throughout.
Championship One outfit Featherstone more than matched their Super League opponents for the first hour in all aspects of the game, particularly in terms of motivation, and deservedly led 10-0 early in the second period.
Castleford, who gave new capture Lee Gilmour a first outing, were without JordanTansey and Keith Mason, both of whom were injured at Hull the previous week.
Rovers, focussed in defence, kept a close eye on Rangi Chase in the early stages and limited the Tigers’ opportunities in an opening period in which the visitors enjoyed most of the play.
With both sides struggling to retain possession, Featherstone went in front on nine minutes when the ball was swept wide through scrum-half Liam Finn and full-back Johnny Hepworth for centre Ian Hardman to cross in the corner.
There was no further score until seven minutes into the second period, when a short kick by Finn led to supporting centre Andy Bostock pouncing.
Finn added the extras and there was every possibility that Featherstone could post a second successive win over neighbours Cas, after the Challenge Cup success last year.
Rovers coach Daryl Powell admitted afterwards, however, that the real value of this fixture was to give all 22 members of the day’s squad valuable experience. Several changes led, inevitably, to a weakening of Featherstone’s challenge and Castleford made the most of the situation with a trio of touchdowns between 58 and 66 minutes, all scored down the visitors’ right flank.
Centre Jake Webster claimed the first, seeping in after Chase and Gilmour had created space, and the second went to winger Justin Carney, again following effective work by Chase and Gilmour.
A smart kick to the corner by Chase led to Carney grabbing his second try and, with winger Kirk Dixon adding a conversion from the touchline, Castleford were suddenly four points ahead.
Rovers threatened to blast their way back into the issue when Finn found touch, close to the home line, from the restart. The scrum-half, however, lost possession under pressure in shaping to pass in the next play, and Rovers never again seriously threatened – other than in a subsequent raid which was halted by a brave interception by Castleford substitute James Clare.
The Tigers went on to seal their victory with a solo try three minutes from time by Dixon, who battered his way through three defenders in an arcing 20-metre run, adding the conversion for good measure.
Powell admitted: “I couldn’t be happier. We’ve played a Super League side and shown that we can match them physically, tactically and defensively. ”
Castleford coach Ian Millward said: “I have to pay tribute to groundsman John Lupton and his staff for enabling a match we really needed to go ahead.
“Our completion rate in the first half was under 50 per cent. Once we sorted that out, we looked very impressive.”
Castleford: Owen, Carney, Shenton, Webster, Dixon, Chase, Ellis, Walker, Milner, Huby, Gilmour, Hauraki, Millington. Subs: Clark, Emmitt, Milner, Massey, Holmes, Thompson, Fleming, Clare.
Featherstone: Hepworth; Scott, Hardman, Worthington, Johnson; Briggs, Finn, England, Kaye, Crossley, Lockwood, Bryan, Dale. Subs: Ellis, Kain, Ormondroyd, James, Bostock, Mackay, Bussey, Holmes.
Referee: James Child (Dewsbury).