CHALLENGE CUP runners-up Castleford Tigers shrugged off their Wembley disappointment to climb from sixth to second in Super League after a 32-18 home win over Bradford Bulls.
Bulls will have fancied their chances given three successive wins, two weeks to prepare and what Tigers had been through during the previous fortnight.
But Cas – missing only injured duo Justin Carney and Craig Huby from their Wembley 17 – started off brightly, built a big lead and then had enough in the tank to finish the stronger side after Bradford had mounted an unexpected fightback.
The £185,000 Warrington Wolves have paid for Tigers hooker Daryl Clark to join them next season was a life-saver for Cas when the club was dying on its feet a year ago.
But it looks a bargain now considering what a strong season the 21-year-old has had. He has scored some important tries, but none more so than the spectacular long-range touchdown which turned the tide yesterday after Bulls had got to within a converted try of the hosts and seemed to have the wind in their sails.
Cas were cruising when they went 18-0 up inside half an hour. Andy Lynch had an outstanding game against his former club and registered the first try after five minutes, from acting-half Clark’s pass close to the line.
James Clare, who replaced Carney, scored an excellent second after nice passing across the line by Lynch, Marc Sneyd and Dorn; then Dorn went over from Michael Shenton’s offload.
Bulls’ James Donaldson had a touchdown ruled out for obstruction just before Dorn’s score, but the visitors got points on the board five minutes before the break when Lee Gaskell dummied over and Luke Gale converted.
Gale, who will join Tigers next year, had a mixed game, making three errors and conceding a penalty in the lead-up to Clare’s try.
Shenton skipped over from Sneyd’s pass on the stroke of half-time, but Gaskell scored back-to-back tries in the third quarter to cut the gap to just six points.
Referee George Stokes is regarded at the RFL as one of the sport’s most promising up and coming officials.
He was barely noticed in the first half, but ruled out two Tigers touchdowns in quick succession following Gaskell’s second try, which came after Cas turned over possession near their own line.
First Stokes decided Kirk Dixon’s knock down, which put Jamie Ellis over, was had gone forward, then Sneyd dived on his own kick for what looked like a brilliant score, but Stokes instead awarded Bulls a penalty and placed Lynch on report, for an alleged foul on Adam O’Brien in back-play. In the resulting set Gaskell raced 40 metres off Gale’s pass to complete his hat-trick and the conversion made it 24-18.
If Jamal Fakir hadn’t fumbled the ball a metres from the line, in front of the posts, moments later, it would have been all square, but Clark’s moment of magic turned the game. Bulls were caught offside 30 metres from their own line and the hooker spotted a gap in the defence, took a quick tap and sprinted away for a stunning try. Sneyd’s fifth goal made it 30-18 and he added a penalty in the final moments to complete a precious win.
Castleford Tigers: Dorn, Dixon, Webster, Shenton, Clare, Sneyd, Finn, Jewitt, Clark, Lynch, Holmes, Hauraki, Massey. Subs (all used) Mariano, Wheeldon, Ellis, Channing.
Bradford: Kearney, George, Henry, Arundel, Williams, Gaskell, Gale, Manuokafoa, O’Brien, Sidlow, Ferguson, Pitts, Donaldson. Subs (all used) Olbison, Blythe, Fakir, Addy.
Referee: George Stokes (Wigan).