CASTLEFORD TIGERS’ hopes of going all the way to Wembley were cut short by the demon Barber.
St Helens’ Australian full-back Ben Barba is the best player in the European game at the moment and was the difference between the teams in a full-blooded Ladbrokes Challenge Cup sixth round tie.
Tigers competed well for long spells, Jesse Sene-Lefao leading the way with a dynamic performance in the pack, but Saints ultimately had too much class in a 38-16 victory.
They are doing to teams what Castleford did last year and their ability to score from anywhere on the field makes them a tough side to defend against.
Castleford made a decent job of it for much of the game, but pace and footwork opened them up several times and they also paid a heavy price for their own mistakes and some penalties at crucial times.
Tigers, with Jy Hitchcox on the left-wing after being recalled from loan at Bradford Bull, went in at half-time only 12 points adrift and well in the game.
The word in the changing rooms was probably to keep doing what they were doing, be disciplined and not make soft errors.
They then allowed the kick-off to bounce dead putting themselves under instant pressure and after surviving that, the ball was turned over in their own half and Saints scored a third try to go 18-0 ahead.
The hosts refused to throw in the towel, but they had left themselves far too much to do and the 36-18 final score was a fair reflection.
A year ago – almost to the day – a battered Saints side, lacking in confidence, were thrashed 53-10 at the Jungle in the same round of the Cup.
Saints did not inflict similar heavy punishment, but the situations have been reversed.
Tigers aren’t a million miles away, but it was always going to be a tall order to match last season’s standards and so far they haven’t managed to do that.
Injuries are having a major bearing. Jake Webster returned, but Castleford were still missing Ben Roberts, Greg Eden, Luke Gale and Nathan Massey.
Gale is a huge loss without him they lacked a cutting edge on attack.
Tigers had enough pressure to make it much closer if they had been more clinical with the ball.
Saints’ first two tries were length of the field efforts, by Regan Grace and Barba, after the visitors had picked up kicks to the corner from Jamie Ellis.
Barba provided the pass for Grace and was directly involved in five of Saints’ six tries.
He stretched over for the third early in the second half, but Jake Trueman scored a fine try to get Castleford back in it.
He came off the bench into the halves, allowing Paul McShane to move to hooker. Captain Michael Shenton played out of position at full-back.
Barba’s pass sent Ryan Morgan over, but Tigers kept plugging away and Greg Minikin scored from an excellent pass by Shenton.
That made it 24-12 with a quarter of the game remaining, but Danny Richardson – who was almost as impressive as Barba and kicked five goals and a penalty – stepped through before Barba completed his hat-trick with a remarkable solo effort, his pace and footwork being the knife to the butter of Tigers’ defence.
Castleford received some consolation for their persistence when Mike McMeeken scored an interception try on the final play and Ellis landed his third conversion.
Castleford Tigers: Shenton, Minikin, Webster, Wardle, Hitchcox, Ellis, McShane, Watts, Milner, Sene-Lefao, Holmes, McMeeken, Foster. Subs: Moors, Millington, Cook, Trueman.
St Helens: Barba, Makinson, Morgan, Percival, Grace, Lomax, Richardson, Amor, Roby, Thompson, Peyroux, Taia, Wilkin. Subs Fages, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Douglas, Knowles.
Referee: James Child (Dewsbury).