Man of Steel Luke Gale made an impressive return from injury to help Castleford Tigers virtually secure their semi-final place.
Tigers’ 36-4 win over visitors Catalans Dragons on Saturday night lifted them to third place in the Betfred Super-8s table and they are eight points clear of fifth-placed Huddersfield Giants with four games remaining.
Gale started at scrum-half in his first game since suffering a fractured kneecap at the end of April and though he showed a few signs of ringrust he was involved in four of Cas’ six tries and kicked five conversions and a penalty.
Ben Roberts, sidelined for a week longer than Gale due to hamstring and knee injuries, made his comeback off the bench.
Catalans’ side included 12 of the team who beat Warrington Wolves in the Challenge Cup final a week earlier and they gave a surprisingly good account of themselves for much of the game, but their finishing was no match for Tigers’ strong defence and some ill-discipline proved costly.
Tigers scored three tries to take an 18-0 interval lead, Gale being involved in the first two.
He linked with Peter Mata’utia to create an opening for captain Michael Shenton; then provided the final pass which sent Greg Eden over.
His half-back partner Jake Trueman scored the third, stepping through the defence for an outstanding touchdown off Paul McShane’s offload.
Greg Bird, back for Catalans after a four-game ban which kept him out of the Cup triumph, went close twice, being held up over the line and then fumbling before he could get the ball down.
Castleford put the game out of Dragoons’ reach with an unconverted try two minutes into the second half when Eden went over for his second, after Gale and Shenton had handled.
Brayden Wiliame pulled four points back for Catalans nine minutes later, but they were reduced to 12 men for a spell when Julian Bousquet was sin-binned after a foul which sparked a skirmish between several players.
When he returned, Catalans were almost immediately back down to 12 after Wiliame delayed a quick restart and was yellow carded.
Eden completed his hat-trick, from Shenton’s pass, moments later and Cas saved their best for last with a sensational try in the next set.
Grant Millington made a huge charge from close to his own line, Mike McMeeken and Gale carried play on and Oliver Holes finished off.
Gale converted and completed the scoring with a penalty in the final seconds.