CASTLEFORD TIGERS will have to wait a little longer to secure a home semi-final after suffering their first defeat at the Jungle in more than a year.
Tigers, unbeaten at home since July 2016, were stunned 26-12 by fast-improving St Helens in their Betfred Super-8s opener.
A win would have guaranteed at least second place, but Cas fell below the high standards they have set this year and Saints deserved the victory – which lifted them into the top-four and moved Wakefield Trinity down a place to sixth, for 24 hours at least – for their magnificent defensive effort.
A Zeb Taia try and two goals from Mark Percival separated the sides at half-time and though Tigers applied huge pressure for spells in the second period, Saints refused to wilt.
The visitors were valued for their 8-0 lead, having also had a touchdown – which referee Robert Hicks thought was valid – ruled out by video official Phil Bentham.
Taia’s footwork took him past Zak Hardaker after 18 minutes after he had been sent-up by Theo Fages.
Percival converted and added a penalty soon afterwards.
Kyle Amor thought he had scored following a kick by Jon Wilkin, but Bentham decided the ball had been knocked forward in the air by Ryan Morgan before it reached the substitute prop.
Tigers’ Jy Hitchcox was also denied by Bentham after touching down from Greg Minikin’s kick, the video ref’ spotting Tigers ‘ Alex Foster inside the 10.
Early in the second half, a knock-on by Regan Grace inside his own half led to a drop out, then a couple of penalties and finally – after 48 minutes – Adam Milner darted over for a try, which Luke Gale converted.
That seemed to have swung the game Tigers’ way, but Saints responded almost instantly when James Roby went over – Percival converting – from Jonny Lomax’s short pass.
A kick by Matty Smith, who returned from injury off the bench for Saints, was touched down by Lomax with 13 minutes left and Percival’s conversion opened a 14-point gap.
Joel Monaghan reduced that with a spectacular finish and Gale improved off the touchline, but Roby ended Tigers fightback with a close-range try and Percival completed the scoring with his fifth goal.
Before the game, news broke that former Castleford Tigers, Salford and England half-back Rangi Chase had tested positive for cocaine following Widnes Vikings’ Super League defeat by Wakefield Trinity last month.
Chase, who joined Widnes from Tigers in May, has been suspended from training and playing under the Rugby Football League’s anti-doping regulations.
Castleford Tigers: Hardaker, Monaghan, Minikin, Shenton, Hitchcox, Roberts, Gale, Millington, McShane, Sene-Lefao, Foster, McMeeken, Massey. Subs O Holmes, Milner, Cook, Patrick.
St Helens: Lomax, Makinson, Morgan, Percival, Grace, Fages, Richardson, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Roby, Thompson, Taia, Peyroux, Wilkin. Subs Smith, Walmsley, Amor, Knowles.
Referee: Robert Hicks (Oldham).