Two contrasting sides of Castleford Tigers’ character were on show as they were beaten 48-32 by Huddersfield Giants in a bizarre game at John Smith’s Stadium.
The first half was a rout, Giants scoring six tries to one to go in 36-4 ahead, but things turned around completely at the interval and Cas were closer than the final score suggests to Super League’s greatest-ever comeback.
In the opening 40 Giants’ pack were well on top, they had all the possession and go-forward and Danny Brough did more or less what he wanted.
Back out for the second half, Cas stepped up a level, Giants were caught flat-footed and some terrific work from Tigers’ pack gave Rangi Chase space and time to weave his own brand of magic.
Thrillingly, Tigers rallied to 36-28 down with fully 15 minutes remaining, but in the end they had left themselves too much to do, though only just.
Giants’ win lifted them top of the table, but – as good as they were in the opening period – their second-half no-show will raise question marks over their status at title contenders.
As for Cas, is there a more frustrating team in the competition? They were an infuriating mix of inept and irrepressible.
They didn’t deserve anything from the match based on their first half show, but the way Giants were rattled after the break gives them something solid to build on.
Everyone knows what Chase can do when he gets the opportunity, but the likes of Jordan Tansey, Craig Huby, Grant Millington, Adam Milner and – in particular – young forward Dan Fleming all made a statement.
Cas’ valiant fightback was more remarkable for the fact they finished with only 14 fit players, having lost two props in the first 11 minutes and another forward mid-way through the second period.
After just seven minutes, Jonathan Walker damaged a knee trying to tackle Eorl Crabtree.
Walker – who had stepped up into the starting side in place of the suspended Ryan Boyle – was replaced by Ben Davies.
In turn he had come into the 17 to take over from Keith Mason, not selected after spending most of the week before the game in court, where he won an unfair dismissal case against his former club, Huddersfield.
Davies lasted all of four minutes before going off with a back problem himself seconds after Giants had opened the scoring when Aaron Murphy offloaded out of Michael Shenton and Richard Owen’s tackle to put Joe Wardle over, with Brough landing the first of eight conversions from as many attempts.
Jordan Thompson came on for Davies and his first act was to slip out a pass which was intercepted by Brough, who raced 70 metres to score.
And Giants added another couple before Cas knew what had hit them, Leroy Cudjoe sending Ben Blackmore – a former Tigers junior – in following a brilliant Brough 40-20 and then Murphy dummying past Tansey for a lovely individual score in the next set.
That made it 24-0 after 20 minutes and five minutes later things got even worse when Justin Carney dropped Luke Robinson’s bomb and that allowed Leroy Cudjoe to go over.
Tigers pulled a try back on 32 when Shenton showed good pace to dash over from Daryl Clark’s pass after a scrum 30 metres out.
But from the re-start Weller Hauraki and Giants’ Brett Ferres, a former Castleford player, got involved in a set-to, which escalated into a brawl and a player from each side – Cas’ Millington and Larne Patrick of Huddersfield – were yellow-carded.
Players have been dismissed for less this year and the RFL’s match review panel will no doubt have a close look at the entire incident.
The penalty went to Giants and Scott Grix dropped the ball over the line on the next play, not that it seemed to matter much by that stage.
Huddersfield did add one more try before the break through Blackmore and only a terrific tackle by Owen on Kyle Wood kept the score below a point per minute.
Remarkably, Tigers scored at more than that in the opening stages of the second half.
With some possession – and nothing to lose – they threw the ball around to good effect as Carney stormed over, showing pace and power – from a trademark try from inside his own half and then Clark sneaked over from acting-half on 49 minutes and the comeback was on.
Six later the gap was reduced further with a moment of Rangi brilliance, Chase dummying into space and then whipping round full-back Grix for a terrific converted score and on 65 Weller Hauraki crossed and Kirk Dixon’s fourth goal made it 36-28.
Milner and Tansey both went agonisingly close after that and Carney may have scored if he’d taken a pass from Chase, but following the scrum from his knock-on Murphy went over to make the game safe with five minutes left.
There was still time for Carney to bulldoze over for an unconverted try, but an Owen mistake from the re-start let Wood in and Brough’s goal completed the scoring after the hooter.
Other than the punch-up it wasn’t a game in which referee Richard Silverwood had too much to do, there were just two penalties in the first half, both to Giants and three after the break, all in Tigers’ favour.
The injuries to three forwards will be a concern for Tigers, but they have no game this weekend and none of them were believed to be long term and medical checks will take place later on.
Huddersfield Giants: Grix, Blackmore, Cudjoe, Wardle, Murphy, Brough, Robinson, Crabtree, Wood, Kopczak, Ferres, Ta’ai, Ferguson. Subs (all used): Faiumu, Lawrence, Patrick, Mullally.
Castleford Tigers: Tansey, Owen, Shenton, Carney, Dixon, Hauraki, Chase, Walker Milner, Huby, Holmes, Millington, Massey. Subs (all used): Clark, Thompson, Fleming, Davies.
referee: Richard Silverwood (Mirfield).