Castleford Tigers 28 St Helens 14 - Danny Richardson shines against former club for Classy Cas
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Danny Richardson, the England Knights scrum-half sold by Saints in the autumn, excelled against his former club, proving hugely involved in a stirring victory.
A healthy crowd of 7,268 descended on Wheldon Road to witness events unfold, clearly not too concerned about coronavirus.
Certainly, there was little sign of social distancing although a polite notice was placed outside a toilet block saying: ‘Please be considerate and don’t take our soap and toilet rolls!’
Unlike most sports that have cancelled events in light of the pandemic, rugby league - without any reported positive tests so far - has managed to continue.
Until now, at least; Super League clubs will meet tomorrow to discuss the impact of the virus with the competition expected to be shut down or possibly played behind closed doors ahead of updated government advice.
Who knows when rugby will be played here again yet alone “Sweet Caroline” be belted out as it was as the final hooter sounded.
But Castleford, who moved joint-top with Wigan Warriors, will look forward to it resuming more than Saints; they are in far better nick than the stumbling champions.
The error-prone visitors had a player sin-binned in both halves, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook for a late and high challenge that fully cleaned former team-mate Richardson off his feet.
The 23-year-old was able to recover after lengthy treatment in the 46th minute but 12-man Saints at least scrambled hard in McCarthy-Scarsbrook’s absence to deny Derrell Olpherts a hat-trick.
Castleford were leading 14-4 at the time and as they conceded a number of penalties to invite their opponents back in, it looked like it might prove costly.
However, their defence also held firm and they did, eventually, manage to get over before their rivals returned to a full complement.
Cheyse Blair did wonderfully to claim a kick that Jonny Lomax could only get a hand to, and later in the set, the Australian - switched to centre with Peter Mata’utia off for a HIA - showed great strength to finish off in the corner.
Richardson, though, had an off-day with his kicking, missing a third from four conversion attempts having also seen a couple of grubbers roll dead for seven-tackle sets.
Still, he was on the mark when Saints conceded yet another high tackle, slotting the penalty for a 20-4 lead in the 65th minute.
Saints went from bad to worse and barely resemble anything like champions as more passes hit the ground and their discipline did not improve either allowing Richardson to stretch the advantage further.
The visitors finally got their act together to see Jack Welsby scramble over only for normality to resume, Theo Fages spilling on his own 20 to see the excellent Paul McShane hack on for Jake Trueman to score Castleford’s fifth try.
St Helens prop Alex Walmsley broke to lay on a score for England colleague Luke Thompson but it was nothing more than a consolation.
Castleford had done the main damage in the first period when some of their handling was sublime, slipping through hands quicker than the sanitisers stationed around the old ground.
That was especially so down Tigers’ right edge where Richardson - playing against Saints for the first time - thrived dictating play.
His combinations with centre Jordan Rankin and Mata’utia caused Saints no end of problems and it was no surprise all their points came down that side as they built up a 14-0 lead shortly before the interval.
Their precision football was too much for the champions and the alacrity with which they played was simply too swift.
When Mike McMeeken’s brute strength drew a penalty, it was Richardson’s astute short pass on the last tackle that saw Mata’utia force his way over in the 11th minute.
The scrum-half slotted the first of his four goals and Saints soon found themselves struggling to get any grip.
Part of that was down to their own issues: Theo Fages conceding a needless penalty for rubbing James Clare’s face on the ground, Zeb Ta’ai spilling on the first tackle after a penalty following George Griffin’s hard hit and even James Roby making a rare error as the England hooker came out of dummy half in his own 20.
That mistake, under pressure from the Castleford marker defence, led to the hosts’ second try with that striking combination of Richardson, Rankin and Mata’utia ushering Olpherts over for his first.
A lovely midfield move involving Paul McShane and Liam Watts created space for Richardson to then ease through himself but as the defence closed in his pass could only found relieved Saints hands.
Matty Lees was then yellow-carded for a high tackle on Rankin, Castleford scoring soon after when Olpherts produced a wonderful finish after more fine play from captain Michael Shenton and Trueman.
Tommy Makinson scored with the final play of the first half but Saints were never truly in this.
Castleford Tigers: Rankin; Olpherts, Mata’utia, Shenton, Clare; Trueman, Richardson; Watts, McShane, Griffin, McMeeken, Blair, Massey. Substitutes: Millington, Milner, Sene-Lefao, Smith.
St Helens: Coote; Makinson, Naiqama, Welsby, Grace; Lomax, Fages; Walmsley, Roby, Thompson, Taia, Peyroux, Knowles. Substitutes: McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Lees, Amor, Smith.
Referee: Liam Moore (Leeds)