CASTLEFORD TIGERS finally overcame their severe bout of home sickness to secure a place in the First Utility Super-8s.
Yesterday’s 38-24 defeat of Catalans Dragons ended a run of five straight league defeats at the Jungle – stretching back to April – and means they are now out of reach of the bottom-four.
That takes the pressure off injury-hit Tigers with two games remaining in the regular season and though it wasn‘t the most polished of performances, they showed enough form on attack to suggest they won’t be in the eight just to make up the numbers.
The first 35 minutes were poor from both teams, with too many errors and penalties, but a moment of magic ignited the game and set Castleford on course for their crucial win.
Forward Frankie Mariano was restricted to just five appearances last year due to knee ligament and wrist injuries, damaged a quad in pre-season training and then rejoined the long-term casualty list after one comeback game away to Warrington in March.
After feeling his way back on dual-registration at Batley Bulldogs, the former Wakefield forward came off the substitutes’ bench late in the first half and made an almost instant impact, rampaging through the Catalans defence for a brilliant solo try which finally put daylight between the teams.
Tigers had looked shaky up to that point, with and without the ball, but Mariano’s try gave them a lift and they struck again on the final play of the half.
Matt Cook was held up over the line, but – as the hooter sounded – Paul McShane went over on the next play and Luke Gale landed the second of his five conversions to make it 20-6.
Coach Daryl Powell decided it was too early to risk Rangi Chase, who rejoined the club last week, so McShane partnered Luke Gale in the halves.
That is a job Ryan Hampshire was hoping to do when he joined Castleford on a season-long loan from Wigan Warriors.
He hasn’t managed to nail down a regular place, either as a pivot or in his other recognised position of full-back, but Tigers’ lengthy injury list gave him an opportunity in the unlikely role of right-winger.
The Normanton Knights product took his chance with both hands, displaying pace and finishing power to bag Cas’ opening two tries, either side of a touchdown for Catalans by Justin Horo and the first of Thomas Bosc’s three conversions, which gave the visitors a brief lead.
Tigers started the second half the way they finished the first, extending their advantage on 42 minutes when Gale shaped to kick before dropping off a pass to the ever-classy Luke Dorn, who touched down despite colliding with a post.
Foud Yaha pulled a try back for Catalans, but Gale’s grubber kick set up a touchdown for Oliver Holmes – after Ben Crooks turned defence into attack by stealing the ball from Yaha – and then Dorn jinked over for his second touchdown.
Remi Casty powered over from close range at the end of the third quarter and Julien Bousquet crossed on the final play of the game, Tony Gigot adding the extras.
Castleford Tigers: Dorn, Hampshire, Crooks, Minikin, Solomona, McShane, Gale, Tickle, Milner, Patrick, O Holmes, Moors, Massey. Subs Millington, Mariano, Cook, Springer.
Catalans Dragons: Escare, Broughton, Gigot, Duport, Yaha, Bosc, Myler, Maria, Da Costa, Casty, Taylor, Horo, Garcia. Subs Bousquet, Pelissier, Mounis, Navarrete.
Referee: Michael Woodhead (St Helens).