Castleford Tigers 16 Wigan Warriors 12: Blair shines in memorable win for Tigers
In the circumstances, last night’s stirring victory over Wigan Warriors at the Jungle could be considered one of Castleford Tigers’ most memorable Super League wins.
Tigers were without five players who had featured in their round one win over Toronto Wolfpack just five days earlier and a total of eight who would have been in or around the 17 if fit.
Despite that considerable handicap, Tigers outplayed Wigan throughout and were full value for a 16-12 success - their seventh in the sides’ last eight meetings at Wheldon Road.
Wigan were missing five first-choice players, including George Burgess and Sam Powell, but Tigers looked much better equipped to cope.
It was a memorable night for off-season signing Derrell Olpherts who scored his first try for the club, as well as two players at the opposite end of the experience scale, captain Michael Shenton in his 300th Super League appearance and teenager Sam Hall who came off the bench to make his debut.
Castleford weren’t considered serious title contenders before the season began, but - while obviously there is a long, long way to go - after impressive wins in the opening two rounds they will begin to get noticed if they continue in this vein.
Though the four tries were shared, Wigan’s second touchdown came in the final moments and Cas were more convincing victors than the four-point margin suggests.
The game got off to a scrappy start and the first opportunity didn’t come until the 18th minute when Tigers opened the scoring with a quality touchdown.
A penalty for offside gave them first position and then Danny Richardson and Jordan Rankin moved the ball right to Cheyse Blair and he put Olpherts over at the corner.
Richardson landed a touchline conversion and it took Wigan until the half-hour mark to have a full set on Castleford’s line.
Jake Trueman is making a name for himself with his attacking skills, but his defence saved the day for Tigers on that occasion, a superb tackle jarring the ball from Willie Isa’s grasp after a pass by Jackson Hastings seemed to have opened the door.
That was a crucial intervention and within moments the hosts had increased their lead through Blair, with only his third try for the club.
The big Australian, switched back to the right-centre after playing as a forward in round one, went between Jake Bibby and Harry Smith from a scrum move in Wigan’s 20.
There was no goal and Wigan got themselves back into the contest two minutes before the interval.
It was a more route-one touchdown than Castleford’s scores, Liam Byrne crashing over from close-range from Hastings’ pass.
Zak Hardaker added the extras, but Cas regained possession from a short re-start - which was credit to their attacking spirit - and in that set a high shot earned them a penalty which Richardson converted.
Castleford could have crumbled under pressure in the early stages of the second period as Liam Farrell was held up over their line early, Isa had a touchdown ruled out for a knock-on and then Jake Bibby seemed to have grounded Harry Smith’s kick, but the officials decided the ball had gone dead.
That was a big moment in the game as Tigers went two scores ahead in the next set, just before the hour mark.
Richardson was tackled high by Ethan Havard, but got up to take the two and in the next set he punished a shoulder charge from Morgan Smithies in similar style.
Wigan never really threatened to pull the game from the fire, though Joe Burgess scored a consolation try in the final minute, which Hardaker improved from wide out.
Hooker Paul McShane, who had a second half spell in the halves after Trueman went off, was the official man of the match, but full-back Jordan Rankin and Blair also stood out in a fine team effort.
Castleford Tigers: Rankin, Olpherts, Blair, Shenton, Clare, Trueman, Richardson, Watts, McShane, D Smith, Holmes, Millington, Massey. Subs Moors, O’Neill, Peachey, Hall.
Wigan Warriors: French, Marshall, Hardaker, Bibby, Burgess, H Smith, Hastings, Clubb, Leuluai, Partington, Isa, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Subs Byrne, Havard, Jake Shorrocks, Smithies.
Referee: Marcus Griffiths (Widnes). Attendance: 8,848.