TEENAGE BACK Ash Robson’s debut try was the highlight of Castleford Tigers’ unimpressive 22-20 triumph at Salford Red Devils.
Robson – better known as a full-back or half-back – started on the left-wing and was one of Tigers’ better players in a sloppy team display at the AJ Bell Stadium.
Cas trailed 10-0 in the second quarter, never really hit their stride against a patched-up Salford outfit – that nevertheless played with great spirit and enterprise – and were fortunate to come away with both points come the final whistle.
Salford were without 14 senior players and their woes continued with substitutes Liam Hood (suspected broken arm) and Adrian Morley (ankle) both being hurt in the first half.
They also lost former Castleford hooker Wayne Godwin, who recently rejoined them from Dewsbury Rams, to concussion late in the game, following an incident which was placed on report, but not penalised.
That was after he had had some teeth knocked out in the first half.
Cas also have their injury problems, but were boosted by the return of prop Junior Moors, who put himself about off the bench, and influential half-back Luke Gale.
Ashley Gibson – a former Salford player – had a strong match for Tigers.
He scored both of their first-half tries.
And Adam Milner pepped up the visitors when he came off the substitutes’ bench.
With much being made of Salford’s struggle to raise a team, Castleford looked like they were expecting an easy afternoon.
It was anything but that and the hosts were left to rue the error which contributed to Robson’s touchdown, which crucially gave Tigers a two-score advantage with 16 minutes left.
That said, two mistakes by Tigers full-back Jordan Tansey contributed to Salford building their early lead.
He lost possession near his own line after just five minutes and Theo Fages – Salford’s best player – picked up to scamper over for an unconverted try.
Cas applied some pressure after that, but some strong Salford defence kept them at bay and the hosts increased their lead on 22 minutes after a spell near the visitors’ line.
Morley almost forced his way over and then Mason Caton-Brown went himself when he had Greg Johnson unmarked inside him.
Cas looked set to survive when Kevin Locke dabbed a low kick straight at Tansey, but he dropped it straight back to the Kiwi who, converted his own try.
Tigers got back in the game four minutes after Locke’s touchdown when Gibson powered over after Michael Shenton, Ben Roberts, Gale and Milner had handled.
Gale added the extras and it took a superb tackle by Johnson to keep Tigers out again soon afterwards, the winger holding Shenton up over the line on the last.
Salford’s Scott Taylor was held up by massed defence at the other end and then Roberts came up with a try-saver on Ryan Lannon.
That and an error by debutant Oliver Gildart, who lost the ball near Tigers’ line, proved crucial as Cas hit back to level with 28 seconds left in the half.
Gibson was a big attacking threat on Cas’ right and he got over again from Shenton’s kick after the visitors had kept the ball alive on the last.
Gildart knocked on over the Cas line early in the second half, the hosts were penalised for offside in the next set and on the subsequent attack Nathan Massey barged past Harrison Hansen from a pass by Gale, who also converted.
A long-range break by Gildart came to nothing due to a knock-on by Niall Evalds, then Gibson burst clear and found Gale, who shipped the ball on to Milner, but he lost possession.
Cas managed to put daylight between themselves and the hosts when Roberts kicked deep into Salford territory, Johnson dithered and Robson hacked on and touched down, Gale landing his third goal.
That should have laid the platform for a strong finish, but Gildart’s break set up a try for Locke moments later.
He could not add the extras and Taylor’s scrambled try in the final moments, which Johnson converted, was too little, just too late.
There was a change of referee in the final six minutes when George Stokes was hurt and reserve official Chris Leatherbarrow took over.
Salford Red Devils: Evalds, Locke, Caton-Brown, Gildart, Johnson, Fages, G Griffin, Taylor, Godwin, Tasi, Hansen, Forster, Greenwood. Subs (all used): Lannon, Hood, Morley, Gee.
Castleford Tigers: Tansey, Clare, Gibson, Shenton, Robson, Roberts, Gale, Lynch, Moore, Wheeldon, Holmes, Millington, Massey. Subs (all used): Milner, Jewitt, Moors, Maher.
Referees: George Stokes (Wigan)/Chris Leatherbarrow (Warrington).