LEADERS CASTLEFORD TIGERS shrugged off the loss of captain Michael Shenton to dig out a hard-fought win at Super League champions Wigan Warriors.
The England centre suffered an injury during the warm-up, forcing a late switch with Joel Monaghan – initially not in the 17 – starting on the wing and returning Greg Minikin switching inside.
Cas, who defended admirably throughout, overcame a sluggish start to score back-to-back tries midway through the first half from Jake Webster and Luke Gale, forcing a 14-4 interval lead.
When prop Jesse Sene-Lefao – who made such an impact off the bench – barged over barely two minutes into the second period for Gale to make it 20-4, a seventh win from eight games was never in doubt.
That ultimately proved enough to beat the champions who were stubborn and spirited but essentially missing too many injured stars to truly worry the side who hope to usurp them come October.
That said, as Wigan closed to 20-10 with Morgan Escare’s second try in the 73rd minute, tiring Castleford were still grateful to the competition’s leading scorer Greg Eden.
He not only denied a certain score by intercepting Joel Tomkins’ pass but then raced 90m to claim his 11th of the season and confirm victory.
Their new-found defensive resilience was to the fore, too, as they soaked up plenty of pressure to secure a first win at Wigan since their famous 2014 Challenge Cup success.
For the third successive game, though, Castleford were slow out of the blocks.
In fact, here, it is debatable whether they even got their spikes on.
Daryl Powell could only watch on in disbelief as his dozing side spilled the ball in each of their opening three sets and, each time, with no one even near the erring player.
Webster, Nathan Massey and Mike McMeeken were the guilty parties.
Castleford did not even venture into the home side’s half with the ball intact until the 11th minute.
After absorbing so much pressure Ryan Sutton and Sam Powell were both held up over the goalline – many teams would then struggle to find any sort of momentum in attack.
However, Powell’s side have a wonderful ability to spring into life almost at will.
Firstly, Castleford were rewarded for turning down an easy penalty goal with a brilliantly executed try on the last tackle, stand-off Benny Roberts fooling Wigan’s defence with his delayed pass that found Webster charging over from close range in the 24th minute.
In the next set, Sene-Lefao squeezed out a late offload on halfway and Zak Hardaker – in his 200th career game – spotted space down the middle, accelerating past the helpless front-row Taulima Tautai before drawing Escare to send scrum-half Gale scampering between the posts.
The scrum-half, who has now scored nine tries in just eight games so far, converted both and added a penalty soon after.
Wigan finally found some attacking cohesion as Escare got on the outside of Gale to arc over out wide but – after all that graft in the second period – Gale had the last word with a late drop goal.
Wigan Warriors: Escare; Davies, Forsyth, Isa, Marshall; Williams, Leuluai; Nuuausala, Powell, Flower, J Tomkins, Farrell, Sutton. Substitutes: Clubb, Tautai, Gregson, Bretherton.
Castleford Tigers: Hardaker; Monaghan, Webster, Minikin, Eden; Roberts, Gale; Massey, McShane, Cook, Holmes, McMeeken, Milner. Substitutes: Sene-Lefao, Moors, Springer, Chase.
Referee: Robert Hicks (Oldham)