EVEN the staunchest of Castleford Tigers fans could never truly have expected this result.
Granted, being bereft of seven first-team regulars, as they were on Saturday, is nothing new to the club this season. Indeed, they have had far more on the sidelines at times.
However, when you analyse just how influential those missing are it puts the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup sixth-round win over Salford into a whole new light.
Castleford progressed into a quarter-final at Wigan despite playing without any recognised half-backs, hooker Paul McShane and prop Grant Millington filling in brilliantly for captain Luke Gale and Benny Roberts.
England centre Shenton, totemic prop Andy Lynch – who broke a leg the previous week – industrious second-row Oli Holmes and Luke Dorn, the dynamic full-back named on the bench for his return from injury only to suffer a relapse during the warm-up, were all also missing, too.
But giant second-row Mike McMeeken and prolific winger Denny Solomona, who took his season tally to 16, both scored try doubles alongside McShane’s try and four goals, to forge a fine success.
Powell, who gave Danny Tickle a debut after Dorn’s late omission, says the victory in front of the BBC cameras was reward for the club’s recent efforts amid such adversity.
“We’re starting to get our just desserts now,” he said, as they ended a three-game losing run in style.
“We’ve copped some unwarranted stick (when losing) with 11 or 12 on the sidelines and we’ve got players finding their feet again.
“Today showed there’s a fair bit of spirit in this group.”
Man-of-the-match McShane was a revelation in the uncustomary scrum-half role in place of Gale, the captain sidelined late on Thursday due to a hamstring strain.
“There was a few people playing out of position and we’ve copped a fair bit of criticism for some of our selections but Paul McShane justified what we did,” added Powell, whose side trailed 12-6 after 35 minutes following a brace from Junior Sa’u.
“I thought he was exceptional. But as soon as we put him there I said ‘if we win, he’ll get man of the match’.
“He’s a composed player and when you play in a different position it brings something else out of you – I’ve experienced that in the past.
“Maybe half-backs aren’t as valuable as they think they are!
“Credit to the guys, they never gave up; their commitment, effort and attitude was a big plus for us – everyone played well.”
Robert Lui’s try brought Salford back to 22-18 early in the second half but they never looked likely to overhaul Cas once McShane bustled over in the 53rd minute, Solomona’s 90m intercept finishing the job.
There was a minute’s applause beforehand for Roger Millward, the legendary former Castleford, Hull KR and Great Britain stand-off who died last Monday aged 68.
Former team-mates from home town Castleford, including Alan Hardisty, plus Phil Lowe, in the same Hull KR side that Millward famously inspired to Challenge Cup glory in 1980, stepped out on the Wheldon Road pitch to pay their respects.
Powell, meanwhile, hopes both Gale and Dorn could be fit for Thursday’s Super League derby at Leeds Rhinos.
Castleford Tigers: Hampshire; Monaghan, Crooks, Webster, Solomona; Millington, McShane; Patrick, Milner, Jewitt, Moors, McMeeken, Massey. Substitutes: Cook, Springer, Hitchcox, Tickle.
Salford Red Devils: O’Brien; Vidot, Jones, Sa’u, Carney; Lui, Dobson; Kopczak, Joseph, G Griffin, Murdoch-Masila, Hauraki, Flanagan. Substitutes: J Walne, A Walne, Krasniqi, Evalds.
Referee: James Child (Dewsbury).