a spirited challenge by Widnes wasn’t enough to stop Castleford Tigers earning their first win of the 2018 Betfred Super League season with a hard-fought 13-12 success.
Last season’s runners-up suffered a heavy defeat at St Helens in their opener and they were well below their best in seeing off the Vikings.
The Tigers dominated the opening 40 minutes but were frustrated by strong Widnes defence until Greg Minikin finished the last play of the half.
Matt Whitley’s converted try nudged the visitors ahead only for Jy Hitchcox to cross to swing the game back Castleford’s way.
Luke Gale booted five points to put the Tigers two scores in front but they were clinging on in the dying minutes after Jay Chapelhow had given the Vikings hope of back-to-back victories.
Widnes suffered a double blow on the morning of the match after hookers Lloyd White and Aaron Heremaia pulled out of the squad and they were on the back foot immediately at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle. Castleford were camped on the Vikings line after Joe Mellor made a mess of the kick-off but they could not take advantage of three drop outs as Widnes held firm.
The Tigers racked up almost 1,000 points in 2017 but they looked disjointed in attack in the face of good scrambling defence.
Jake Webster came closest to breaking the deadlock in a frustrating start for Castleford when he knocked on going for the corner.
Widnes threatened briefly when Whitley had a try ruled out for a forward pass by Tom Gilmore and chances continued to come and go at the other end.
Stefan Marsh denied Ben Roberts with a brilliant one-on-one tackle and Mike McMeeken had an effort chalked off for obstruction.
Castleford eventually broke through on the stroke of half-time when Minikin held off a couple of defenders to touch down in the corner after good centre play by Webster.
Gale missed the touchline conversion but the Tigers had a lead and were the fresher team at the break.
Yet it was Widnes who came out firing after the restart and almost levelled the scores when Chris Dean was held up over the line.
The visitors did not have to wait much longer for their try, though, as Whitley collected Gilmore’s lovely reverse kick and touched down in front of the travelling supporters.
Gilmore added the extras to nudge the Vikings in front and teenager Danny Walker, their only recognised hooker, ensured they remained on top with an explosive dummy-half run.
The momentum soon shifted and Widnes had to be at their best defensively once again to somehow deny Castleford after they had worked a three-man overlap.
The Tigers continued to knock on the door and they were back ahead when Hitchcox strolled in out wide from Michael Shenton’s pass.
Gale landed a difficult conversion and then added another two points from a penalty for interference before knocking over a drop goal to give Castleford a 13-6 lead.
The Tigers appeared to have the points in the bag but Widnes won the ball back from the restart and Chapelhow crashed over next to the posts to set up a grandstand finish.
Gilmore sent two drop-goal attempts wide in the closing minutes but the Vikings could not salvage a point from a gripping contest.