INJURY-RAVAGED CASTLEFORD Tigers staged a remarkable rally in the final quarter to stun Wakefield Trinity Wildcats 46-20 in a cracking derby at Belle Vue.
Tigers – missing nine of their first-choice 13 – were 10 points adrift early on and trailed three times, but hit Wildcats with 30 unanswered points in the final 22 minutes.
The win lifted Tigers into sixth spot at the end of the regular Super League rounds, with Wildcats dropping to eighth.
Tigers will play home fixtures against Wigan Warriors, Wakefield and Widnes Vikings in the Super-8s and visit Catalans Dragons, St Helens, Warrington Wolves and Hull.
Wildcats’ home matches will be against Catalans, Warrington and Hull. The fixtures will be announced on Wednesday.
For much of the game Wakefield looked on course to end the regular season on a high and send themselves into Saturday’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final against Warrington with a win under their belts.
They should have been further than six points ahead at the break after dominating all but five minutes of the first 40, but Castleford somehow managed to cling on when the match seemed to be going away from them.
Rangi Chase (back), Denny Solomona (food poisoning) and Luke Dorn (calf) all dropped out from the Tigers side which lost to Warrington in their previous game and coach Daryl Powell was full of praise for the way his side held firm before cutting loose in the final quarter.
“I think it has been an incredible effort from us over 23 rounds,” he said.
“We had 14 players who could not play today, so it has been very tough.
“For us to end up after 23 rounds finishing sixth is an awesome achievement, I am really proud of the players.”
“We were a bit helter-skelter, but I thought we grabbed the game in the second half.
“I thought when we did we would be good enough to win the game and it’s really pleasing we were able to do that.”
Tigers old boy Liam Finn created all four of the hosts’ tries, as well as landing two conversions.
His half-back partner, Jacob Miller, touched down on four minutes after Ryan Hampshire failed to collect Finn’s bomb.
Nine minutes later Joe Arundel – another former Cas player – went over from Finn’s pass after he had combined with Miller close to the line.
Tigers got back in the game on 21 minutes when Reece Lyne lost the ball in an attacking position and Greg Minikin raced the length of the field for a brilliant solo touchdown.
On 24 minutes, Luke Gale slid a kick behind the Wakefield defence and Oliver Holmes – playing out of position in the left-centre – reacted quickly to get the ball down.
The second of Gale’s seven conversions made it 10-10, but Wildcats regained the advantage almost immediately through Arundel’s second try of the derby encounter.
It was 16-10 at half-time, but Castleford levelled for the second time soon after the interval when Andre Savelio – making his debut following a loan move from St Helens – crashed over from Paul McShane’s pass.
On 51 minutes Finn kicked to the corner and Lyne rose above the defence to catch and touch down.
But seven minutes later, Savelio surged through the middle and, on the next play, former Wakefield man McShane provided a quick pass to send Gale through a gap – and Castleford were ahead.
The key moment of the match came with 18 minutes left when Finn failed to find touch with a penalty which should have given Wakefield an attacking opportunity near Castleford’s line.
Instead, Castleford received a penalty on the first tackle and scored through Junior Moors in the subsequent set to go eight points clear of their derby rivals.
The final nine minutes was a rout as Minikin went over for his second try from Gale’s kick, academy product Tom Holmes cut through for a well-taken touchdown and Hampshire backed up a break by Gale to also get over the whitewash.
Wildcats coach Chris Chester admitted the loss of Bill Tupou (hamstring), Jon Molloy (pectoral muscle) and Mikey Sio (sternum) contributed to his side’s collapse against Castleford.
He said: “We had one guy fit on the bench for the last 35 minutes and that really hurt us.
“We had a front-rower – David Fifita – who played 65 minutes in the middle, which was a great achievement.
“It was a good, even contest for 50 minutes then we get a penalty, miss touch and we give a penalty away and concede: it took it away from us.
“I’m not overly disappointed because there was bags of effort out there, we just ran out of troops.”
Wakefield Wildcats: Jowitt, Lyne, B Tupou, Arundel, Hall, Miller, Finn, Scruton, Sio, Fifita, Walton, Ashurst, Molloy. Subs Crowther, Arona, Moules, A Tupou.
Castleford Tigers: Hampshire, Flynn, Crooks, O Holmes, Minikin, McShane, Gale, Springer, Milner, Patrick, Mariano, Millington, Moors. Subs Savelio, T Holmes, Cook, Maher.
Referee: Joe Cobb (Leigh).