CASTLEFORD TIGERS were given a fright for a while by Wakefield Trinity Wildcats before easing to a 56-16 win in the sixth and final game of First Utility Super League’s Magic Weekend.
Australian veteran Brian Smith was announced as Wildcats’ incoming coach shortly before kick-off and the news seemed to have a positive effect for a short period, though the same old failings proved costly in the end.
With skipper Michael Shenton setting an impressive lead, Castleford scored three tries in a lightning start, but got sloppy at times and allowed Wakefield to cut the gap to just six points at the interval.
Wildcats are actually capable of playing some good rugby at times and when they did they caused Cas problems.
But they kicked out on the full from two re-starts, fell off tackles too easily – their right-side defence being particularly fragile – and made some poor errors, as well as conceding a flurry of penalties in the second half.
Tigers started and finished well and by the end they were producing some of the form which took them to Wembley and fourth place in Super League last year.
It was a good win considering they were without Ben Roberts, Ryan Bailey and Frankie Mariano from the team which lost to Huddersfield Giants in their previous game. Scott Moore returned, briefly, from injury and Ryan Boyle and Junior Moors were recalled.
Wildcats fielded their strongest side for a while, lining up in squad order from No 3 through to No 10 and with Mickael Simon and Daniel Smith returning on the bench, in place of Jordan Crowther and Chris Annakin.
Smith was on the field inside three minutes, after a sickening collision between Moore and Scott Anderson, who both went off after treatment.
Tigers opened the scoring moments later when Michael Shenton put Denny Solomona over at the corner and Luke Gale landed the first of his eight conversions.
That took the former Leeds academy player – who has also featured for Doncaster, London Broncos and Bradford Bulls – past 1,000 career points.
At the end of the next set his low kick was fumbled by Wildcats full-back Richard Owen and following the scrum Solomona went over again, from Gale’s looping pass.
Wakefield’s disastrous start got even worse when Shenton burst up the middle, dummied the full-back and then put the supporting Jordan Tansey over.
With Wildcats trailing 16-0 after 10 minutes, chairman Michael Carter must have been tempted to switch his phone off, in case Smith rang through to back out of his new deal.
Moments later, he was switching it back on. Amid the chaos of Wildcats’ season, one positive has been the emergence of young winger Tom Johnstone.
He hasn’t had it easy and his defence needs to improve, but he is a player blessed with pace, nice footwork and an eye for the line. On 15 minutes he read the situation perfectly to intercept Oliver Holmes’ pass and dash clear from inside his own half for possibly the try of the weekend.
Two minutes after that Ashley Gibson failed to deal with Tim Smith’s high kick bomb and hit the deck under pressure from Danny Washbrook, but referee Joe Cobb allowed play to continue, Jon Molloy picking up to put Dan Smith over.
Jacob Miller’s second conversion made it 16-12 and, against all the odds, it was a contest. It stayed that way until 10 minutes into the second half.
Shenton’s powerful finish was too strong for Wildcats’ right-side defence on 29, after Liam Finn, Gale and Tansey had handled, but two later Johnstone did much better, forcing Solomona to put a foot on the line before he got the ball down.
Moments later the winger was over at the other end as Pita Godinet, Tim Smith, Owen and Dean Collis handled across the line on the last.
Wakefield made a positive start to the second half, but Solomona was gifted his hat-trick when Owen slipped chasing Gale’s kick, the re-start went out on the full – for the second time in the game – and Gibson finished off good work by Jake Webster and Mike McMeeken.
Webster carved out a second try for his winger and then Solomona scored his fourth after Johnstone and Owen collided under Gale’s kick, making it 44-16 going into the final quarter.
Seven minutes from time Solomona burst through some weak defence, Holmes carried the move on and Gale was in support to score a deserved try before Gibson completed his hat-trick with a one-handed finish from Tansey’s pass.
It was a shame most of the 26,917 crowd had left by then. The total attendance over the two days was a record 67,788.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats: Owen, Johnstone, Collis, Lyne, Riley, Miller, T Smith, Scruton, McShane, Anderson, Washbrook, Kirmond, Molloy. Subs Godinet, Ryan, Simon, D Smith.
Castleford Tigers: Tansey, Gibson, Webster, Shenton, Solomona, Finn, Gale, Lynch, Moore, Millington, O Holmes, McMeeken, Massey. Subs Milner, Boyle, Moors, Maher.
Referee: Joe Cobb (Leigh).