Castleford Tigers 18 Salford Red Devils: Youngsters battle bravely in Super League defeat as key men are rested for Wembley
A makeshift Castleford Tigers side tried hard, but were mauled 70-18 by Salford Red Devils in the club’s last game before Wembley.
Tigers had lost 60-6 to Leeds Rhinos in the week before their semi-final win over Warrington Wolves, so maybe that’s an omen.
Strange as it seems. Tigers didn’t play badly, as such, they were just over-matched, not big or experienced enough to have any chance of avoiding a fifth successive home defeat.
Salford, also coming back from layoff, were far too good, but Castleford scored three good tries, all converted by Danny Richardson and the youngsters in their team will be better for the experience.
The game was the only opportunity for Aussie forward Grant Millington - who missed out through injury in 2014 - to prove his form and fitness for Saturday’s showpiece against St Helens .
He had not featured since suffering knee damage in Tigers’ Cup quarter-final win over Salford two months ago, but started in the front-row and made a rapid impact with the opening try after six minutes.
That came from a pass by the most impressive of the debutants, Cain Robb - who was unlucky not to score in the second period when he dummied over from close-range, but knocked-on.
Robb is a member of the first team squad, but winger Caelum Jordan, stand-off Jack Salder and substitutes Adam Rusling and Nathan Magee were all awarded a squad number ahead of the game.
In selecting his side, Tigers coach Daryl Powell had to balance the need for players to get game time into their legs ahead of the Cup final with the risk of injuries ruling key men out.
Playing six days before Wembley meant anyone failing a head injury assessment would automatically be unavailable and two Tigers players suffered that fate, though neither was a realistic contender for Saturday.
Sadler and another teenager Jason Qareqare, who started at full-back, both suffered head knocks in the first half and didn’t return.
It was a bright start from Tigers, but Salford levelled 12 minutes into the game and once they had weathered the early storm, the visitors eased their way into a 22-6 half-time lead and the floodgates opened after the interval.
The first try came on 12 minutes through former Leeds Rhinos forward Jack Ormondroyd, with Krisnan Inu booting the first of his 11 conversions from 12 attempts.
Tigers’ willingness to put their bodies on the line was illustrated when teenager Adam Rusling, who had replaced Qareqare, combined with Alex Foster to hold up the gigantic Pauli Pauli over the line. In total, Salford were prevented from getting the ball down over the whitewash four times.
Foster, another one playing for a place at Wembley, also boosted his hopes with a try in the second half.
Morgan Escare then dummied over untouched and Rhyse Williams touched down from a kick to the corner.
With everybody in the team having a point to prove one way or another, Castleford weren’t going to lie down and they started the second half the way they did the opening 40, with an early try.
Brad Martin, who has shown up well at first team level this season, got over at the corner from some nice handling across the line, cutting the deficit to 10 points.
Given the respective lineups, Tigers would have settled for that with more than half the game gone, but Salford responded with four tries in the third quarter to end any faint hopes of a fightback.
Ken Sio and Escare both went over on their right side before Dec Patton sliced through and then Matt Costello scored in the next set.
Chris Atkin brought up the half-century with 15 minutes left before Foster went over for the hosts’ third touchdown, but Salford added three tries in the final minutes, through debutants Dan Norman and Ben Davies, plus Williams’ second.
Castleford Tigers: Qareqare, Jordan, Blair, Foster, Clare, Sadler, Richardson, Hepi, Robb, Millington, Sene-Lefao, Martin, Bienek. Subs Peachey, Hall, Rusling, Magee.
Salford Red Devils: Escare, Sio, Inu, Costello, Williams, Patton, Atkin, Johnson, Ackers, Ormondroyd, Livett, Lannon, Burke. Sub Pauli, Roberts, Davies, Norman.
Referee: Tom Grant (Leeds).
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