JESSE Sene-Lefao proved the hero as desperate Super League leaders Castleford Tigers somehow won at Huddersfield Giants last night.
The hosts had seen Jake Mamo score a first half hat-trick of tries but it all came to nothing.
Castleford, who struggled without their England trio of Luke Gale, Zak Hardaker and Mike McMeeken, were under pressure for most of the second period yet saw Kiwi second-row Sene-Lefao rescue them with a 74th minute try.
Admittedly, the Tigers were furious when, leading 20-19, Jake Webster was sin-binned for illegally stripping the ball from Sebastine Ikahihifo after chasing down the Giants forward in the 69th minute.
It looked like Webster had taken possession before the play was over but referee Ben Thaler deemed otherwise and Danny Brough, crucially, slotted the penalty to put Huddersfield back ahead.
However, Brough was then yellow-carded himself for a cannonball tackle that gifted Castleford position to strike and secure the win that puts them four points clear at the top.
Giants – who had won for the first time in 10 games with a shock win at Leeds Rhinos a week earlier – still had chance to recover but their former full-back Greg Eden denied a breakaway Oli Roberts.
Daryl Powell opted for switching hooker Paul McShane to scrum-half to replace Gale while Alex Foster came in on debut for McMeeken, Eden moved from the winger to take Hardaker’s spot and Rangi Chase came in for the injured Benny Roberts.
Giants led 18-12 at the break, though, following Mamo’s treble. His side had gone behind to an early Joel Monaghan effort, Eden providing a neat final assist, although the hosts were rightly aggrieved after Castleford gained possession from a scrum that should clearly have been awarded the other way.
McShane curled over the touchline conversion, too, slotting all five in Gale’s absence, but, in fairness, the try was a rare moment of precision from the visitors.
Mamo scored his first in the 19th minute after Brough’s smart kick had seen Eden bustled back behind his own line.
In the resultant set, it was the dependable centre Aaron Murphy who weaved infield, eluding some half-hearted defence before squeezing out an offload for the Australian to speed over from 15m out.
Brough slotted the first of his four goals and it was another of his astute kicks that this time saw Chase caught behind his own line.
Again Giants capitalised fully from the drop-out, Oli Roberts just denied by Sene-Lefao’s desperate tackle but playing the ball quickly enough for Mamo to exploit the space.
However, when returning the restart, Huddersfield prop Shannon Wakeman spilled under pressure and eventually Chase’s long pass sent Greg Minikin over for his 13th try of the year, McShane improving.
Yet Mamo soon completed his first-half hat-trick – his three tries came in the space of just 16 minutes – as he swooped onto Brough’s latest telling grubber, the Scotland captain just missing with a long-range penalty, too, on the interval hooter.
Powell introduced half-back Tom Holmes at the break, the 21-year-old who has been on loan with Batley Bulldogs.
They levelled when Monaghan palmed down McShane’s lofted kick for Eden to score his 15th try of the year in the 47th minute, McShane improving.
But Castleford were fortunate not to see Minikin receive a yellow card for recklessly taking Darnell McIntosh out in the air when chasing Holmes’ high kick.
Mamo’s well-weighted grubber forced another drop-out but Castleford captain Michael Shenton crucially denied the Australian with a timely tap-tackle.
That said, they could have extended their lead also when a clever Brough chip looked set to land perfectly into the hands of Alex Mellor but the centre, crucially, spilled.
Instead, all they could muster from an intense period of pressure on their rivals’ line was Brough’s 56th minute drop goal but that would not be enough.
Huddersfield Giants: Mamo; McIntosh, Murphy, Mellor, Ormsby; Brough, Wood; Ikahihifo, Leeming, Wakeman, Roberts, Ferguson, Hinchcliffe. Substitutes: O’Brien, Rapira, Smith, Clough.
Castleford Tigers: Eden; Minikin, Webster, Shenton, Monaghan; Chase, McShane; Lynch, Milner, Millington, Sene-Lefao, Foster, Massey. Substitutes: Holmes, Moors, Cook, Springer.
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield).