NEVER MIND Bertha, Hurricane Tiger lifted the roof at Leigh Sports Village and blew Castleford to Wembley for the first time since 1992.
The gales which made getting to yesterday’s semi-final an adventure in itself largely left the game alone, but Widnes Vikings found themselves at the eye of a storm.
The Cheshire side went into the tie with high hopes, but were comprehensively out-classed by a Cas team who were on a different level.
The 28-6 scoreline accurately reflected Tigers’ dominance. Widnes looked nervous and lacking in ideas, but Cas relished the big occasion and the result was never in any doubt.
The score at the break was exactly the same as in the previous day’s semi-final, Tigers leading 14-0, just as Leeds Rhinos had against Warrington Wolves.
But while Warrington are a good enough side to claw back that sort of deficit – though not on that occasion – Widnes aren’t.
A try six minutes after the break put the result beyond doubt and from then on Cas and their noisy fans were able to enjoy the occasion.
The concern for Cas was a serious injury to in-form prop Craig Huby, who suffered a dislocated elbow midway through the first half.
Another pack leader, Grant Millington, has already been ruled out of the final – in 12 days’ time – due to a knee injury, but winger Justin Carney and second-row Weller Hauraki will be available after suspension. Tigers got off to a flier as Liam Finn – playing in the Championship with Featherstone Rovers a year ago – shot over from close range off a pass by Luke Dorn, following Daryl Clark’s initial dart.
That was on five minutes and four later – after Jack Owens had dropped Finn’s bomb – Clark was in for the second try after a run-around with Marc Sneyd, who converted the first, but not the second.
On 16 Tigers were over the line again when Sneyd kicked to Owens, he lost it and Kirk Dixon touched down, but video referee Phil Bentham spotted a knock-on by Jake Webster.
Tigers lost Huby in the next set, but that barely broke their stride. Terrific tackles by Webster – on Chris Dean – and Clark – who hauled Dave Allen down just short – kept Tigers’ line intact in Widnes’s only serious attack of the opening period, midway through.
That came from back-to-back penalties and Vikings lacked the guile and power to break down Tigers’ well-organised and very tough defence.
Another flurry of penalties gave Widnes their second spell of pressure right on the stroke of half-time, but Danny Tickle was pulled down in front of the posts and then knocked-on.
By that stage Widnes were 14 points adrift. On 33 minutes the all-action Finn teed-up Frankie Mariano, who made a big impact in Tigers’ second-row.
He shipped a pass out to Dorn and the full-back – later named the official man of the match – put Dixon in, the winger stepping over from close to the line.
It was a sweet afternoon for Dorn, who was a member of of the London Broncos team routed 70-0 by Wigan Warriors in a semi-final on the same ground last year.
Tigers’ halves were outstanding, but the pack laid the platform with a strong, no-nonsense display, despite the absence of some of their key men.
Jamie Ellis was preferred to Adam Milner among Tigers’ substitutes and justified his selection with a well-taken try on 46 minutes, catching Widnes’ defence flat-footed from dummy-half after successive penalties.
Sneyd’s second goal made it 20-0 and he added a third with 17 minutes left, kicking a penalty after Widnes booted a drop-out dead on the full. Widnes’ Stefan Marsh got over the line moments later, but he was held up – by Clark and Oliver Holmes – and almost immediately Cas added to their lead when Dixon’s pass was finished by Webster. Dixon is exactly the sort of player who deserves a day in the spotlight. A very solid professional, having been at Cas through bad times and good, without any hint of representative honours or major silverware.
Sneyd’s fourth goal completed Tigers’ scoring. Widnes did gain some very slight consolation in the final moments when Owens got over at the corner and also added the conversion.
Tigers’ fans provided inspirational support throughout and showed great restraint staying on the terraces after a pitch invasion by Widnes fans at the end. It started in a good natured fashion, but degenerated as Widnes fans fronted-up in front of the Cas end and several of them attacked the Tigerman mascot.
Castleford Tigers: Dorn, Dixon, Webster, Shenton, Clare, Sneyd, Finn, Lynch, Clark, Huby, Holmes, Mariano, Massey. Subs (all used) Wheeldon, Ellis, Jewitt, Carvell.
Widnes Vikings: Hanbury, Flynn, Dean, Marsh, Owens, Brown, Mellor, Gerrard, Clarke, Kavanagh, Galea, Tickle, Cahill. Subs (all used) Allen, O’Carroll, White, Isa.
Referee: Richard Silverwood (Mirfield).
Attendance: 12,005 (capacity).