Castleford Tigers 38 Catalans Dragons 24: Ryan Hampshire secures top-eight spot
UNLIKELY winger Ryan Hampshire helped Castleford Tigers to their first in five games and a success which confirms their qualification in Super League's top-eight.
The full-back/stand-off, who is on a season-long loan from Wigan Warriors but has largely been out of favour, is probably the West Yorkshire club’s eighth choice wideman.
However, due to a raft of injuries, the youngster was named there by Daryl Powell for his first game in six weeks and expertly finished two first-half tries to help Tigers vanquish Catalans Dragons.
Australian full-back Luke Dorn also crossed twice while there was a brilliant try from Frankie Mariano, the second-row playing only his second Tigers game this season after a succession of injuries, as Castleford at last rediscovered some form.
Rangi Chase was not selected - he is likely to make his first appearance since re-joining the club in a week’s time against Warrington Wolves - but Powell’s side was not short of ingenuity with scrum-half Luke Gale and Dorn in fine form as they rose up to sixth.
Fourth-placed Catalans, who have now lost four successive games including a Challenge Cup quarter-final, had no answer for their guile, captain Gale at the heart of most of the hosts’ best moments.
His side, essentially, took control of the game with two tries just before the break to take a 20-6 lead.
Firstly, the home faithful was ecstatic as Mariano, whose only previous match was in the loss at Warrington in March, arrowed through on a storming 40m run to splinter the Catalans defence.
The former Hull KR second-row bumped off full-back Tony Gigot and then beat the cover for a 36th minute try that will have him done his confidence the world of good after an injury-ravaged couple of seasons.
However, the hosts were not finished there as, after Catalans winger Jodie Broughton threw a desperate pass infield after intercepting, Castleford had another chance to strike.
Matt Cook was held up over the goalline but they then kept the ball alive wonderfully in midfield before Paul McShane burrowed over as the hooter sounded, Gale adding his second conversion.
Crucially, they crossed first in the second period, too, with a lovely try in the 43rd minute.
Gale took possession on the last tackle, shaped to kick but then found Dorn on his inside shoulder, the veteran set to retire at the end of this season, weaving through bemused Catalans defenders from 20m out to cross between the posts.
Admittedly, the visitors soon responded when Mariano lost the ball driving the restart back and Vincent Duport slipped Fouad Yaha over, Thomas Bosc converting from the touchline for 26-12.
However, that did not mark the start of any French renaissance.
Instead, when Ben Crooks produced a fine one-on-one ball steal to thwart Yaha, just as the giant winger was gathering momentum, Powell’s side quickly snuffed out any hope of that.
Gale, once more, was the instigator, attacking the defensive line on the last tackle before dabbing a kick through for Oli Holmes’ to touch down.
Soon after, Dorn came into the line at pace to dummy his way over for his second and Castleford were rampant as Gale’s fifth conversion made it 38-12
The French side hit back when Remi Casty plundered over on the hour, Bosc improving, but, after a scrappy final quarter, they did not cross again until moments before the final hooter through Julian Bousquet, Gigot converting.
Catalans were left to rue missing some chances early in the game.
In fact, Laurent Frayssinous’ side had two tries disallowed in the opening five minutes, firstly Richie Myler for offside and then - when Gale failed to find touch with a penalty - Yaha for a forward pass.
So, it was Castleford who crossed first when Hampshire showed great pace in the seventh minute and, even though Catalans responded when Justin Horo dummied through some meek defence for Bosc to convert, Powell’s side always looked more dangerous.
Hampshire - in with Joel Monaghan, Paddy Flynn, Jake Webster, Jy Hitchcox and Ash Robson all injured - added his second in the 26th minute when he took Dorn’s looping pass and showed confidence to cut infield and beat a defender to the line.
Indeed, the 21-year-old, who had scored just once in his other dozen Tigers games and will return to Wigan in 2017, could have had a hat-trick if his centre Ben Crooks had not chosen to unsuccessfully go for the line himself soon after.
It mattered little; Mariano stepped for his glorious score and the Tigers were on their way.
Castleford Tigers: Dorn; Hampshire, Crooks, Minikin, Solomona; McShane, Gale; Tickle, Milner, Patrick, O Holmes, Moors, Massey. Substitutes: Millington, Mariano, Cook, Springer.
Catalans Dragons: Escare; Broughton, Gigot, Duport, Yaha; Bosc, Myler; Maria, Da Costa, Casty, Taylor, Horo, Garcia. Substitutes; Bousquet, Pelissier, Mounis, Navarrete.
Referee: Michael Woodhead (St Helens)