CASTLEFORD TIGERS have had a good season, but it came to a disappointing end last night.
The 2017 league leaders and Grand Final runners-up were denied a return to Old Trafford by a ruthless Wigan side who were full value for their 14-0 victory.
It was another big game disappointment for Cas. The first half was reminiscent of last year’s Grand Final as they failed to cope with a slippery ball. Even the scoreline was the same, Tigers trailing 7-0 at the break.
After conceding an early try in the second period Tigers applied some pressure and went close a couple of times, but Wigan’s defence was too good.
Cas badly missed teenage stand-off Jake Trueman, who suffered a broken hand in last week’s 28-0 loss at St Helens in the Super-8s.
They had hope until Wigan went three scores ahead with 16 minutes left, but needed cooler heads and never looked like sending their 4,300 travelling fans home happy.
Wigan scored the only try of the first half on 11 minutes when Thomas Leuluai, making his 250th appearance for them, jinked through from first receiver.
Nathan Massey had lost the ball inside his own half, then – after Peter Mata’utia and Liam Watts held Joe Greenwood up over the line – Luke Gale halted Dom Manfredi with a swinging arm which sparked a bout of fisticuffs.
Referee Ben Thaler took no action other than the penalty and Leuluai went over in that set, Sam Tomkins converting.
Most of the opening quarter was played in the visitors’ half, but Cas created the better chances when they did manage to attack.
Oliver Holmes’ ball steal on Sean O’Loughlin led to Tigers’ first opportunity, but Gale put an ineffective kick in early in the count.
Greenwood spilled the ball straight to Paul McShane and Cas forced a goal line drop out, but Watts knocked on running the ball back.
The closest Cas came before the break was in the set from their only penalty of the half when Gale’s low kick was spilled and McShane darted for the line from acting-half, but the ball came loose.
On the half hour Tomkins missed with a 42-metre penalty, but he did increase the hosts’ lead with a drop goal 32 seconds before the hooter.
Both those attacks came after Adam Milner had knocked on. Wigan also made their share of errors, particularly when Ryan Sutton coughed up possession on the first tackle following the drop-out from the penalty miss.
Discipline also let Cas down in the opening 40, when they conceded four penalties. The final count was eight-four in the hosts’ favour.
Cas got one right at the start of the second half, but Manfredi managed to return a kick into play when he should have been trapped in-goal and Cas were then penalised back-to-back.
James Clare, preferred on the left wing to Greg Minikin, made a fine tackle to keep Dan Sarginson out, but Wigan moved the ball right and Tomkins got past Gale to slide over from Leuluai’s pass.
Though the conversion was missed, at 11-0 down with 33 minutes left, Cas had it all to do.
On 55 minutes they produced their best passage of play when Milner made a break and found Grant Millington.
Gale, Holmes and Michael Shenton worked the ball to Greg Eden and his kick was taken into touch by Manfredi a few metres out.
That meant Cas kept possession, but Wigan were let off the hook when Joe Wardle’s pass to Clare drifted forward.
Wigan’s defence on both edges – and particularly their right – was top class.
With 18 minutes left McShane stole the ball from O’Loughlin and it looked like Cas would score through Eden, but he was barged into touch just short.
That was a huge moment in the game.
Seconds later Mata’utia stood his ground to stop George Williams, who should have used his support, but then Milner was penalised for interference and Tomkins kicked Wigan three scores ahead.
Oliver Gildart thought he had scored with 13 minutes left, but Greg Eden had been in touch before the ball came loose to the centre.
Greenwood was held up over the line in the final seconds before Tomkins booted drop goal on the last play.
Wigan Warriors: Tomkins, Manfredi, Gildart, Sarginson, Davies, Williams, Leuluai, Navarette, Powell, Flower, Greenwood, Bateman, O’Loughlin. Subs Escare, Sutton, Clubb, Farrell.
Castleford Tigers: Mata’utia, Clare, Wardle, Shenton, Eden, Roberts, Gale, Watts, McShane, Millington, Holmes, McMeeken, Massey. Subs Webster, Milner, Sene-Lefao.
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield).