Challenge Cup semi-final analysis - how Castleford Tigers turned the tables to upset Warrington Wolves and book Wembley showdown with St Helens
Has there ever been a more remarkable turnaround from one game to another?
Eight days after being embarrassed 60-6 at home by Leeds Rhinos, Castleford Tigers came up with the goods when it really mattered, outplaying Warrington Wolves to secure their first trip to Wembley since 2014.
Bouncing back in such style from so heavy a defeat was impressive enough, but the fact Warrington had scored 62 points in their previous game - against Salford Red Devils - made the outcome of the semi-final at Leigh Sports Village even more remarkable.
Tigers were literally a different team to the one beaten by Leeds; their 17 included eight players who had not featured in that game and among the players dropped was half-back Danny Richardson who, on this evidence, will find it difficult regaining his place.
That combination was devastatingly effective. Turner scored a hat-trick of tries and was named man of the match, but it was Evalds and O’Brien, along with stand-off Jake Trueman, who ran the show.
Warrington couldn’t cope with their speed of thought or movement and Tigers’ 19-0 interval lead was an accurate reflection of the opening 40 minutes.
At that stage, Castleford had one foot in the final - to face St Helens on July 17 - but work still to do and much would depend on how they coped with the expected Warrington onslaught immediately after half-time.
More - Castleford Tigers 35 Warrington Wolves 20 - Jordan Turner's hat-trick inspires Daryl Powell's side to Wembley date with St HelensNot very well was the answer as Warrington scored two quick unconverted tries to get themselves back into the game, but Tigers knew once they got to the other end they could score enough points to maintain a healthy gap and that proved to be the case.
Warrington ‘won’ the second period 20-16, but never really looked like pulling the game out of the fire, partly due to their habit of shooting themselves in the foot every time they seemed to be staging a fightback.
The result and Castleford’s performance showed Tigers’ squad are playing for the club and their coach Daryl Powell, something which had been questioned after three successive defeats.
Powell now has an opportunity to win a major trophy before leaving Castleford to join Warrington next season, but was obviously hurt by the criticism aimed at him and his players over the previous week, which he described as “a lot of people jumping up and down”.
His post-match press conference reflected on that as much as Tigers’ victory, labelling the over-the-top reaction to recent results as “crazy” and insisting it is “ridiculous” to doubt the commitment of anybody at the club.
Right from the first whistle of the semi-final, Tigers looked like men on a mission.
They defended strongly in the first half, made the most of a 10-minute spell against 12 men, when Jake Mamo was in the sin-bin and took their chances in lethal fashion.
Their defence wasn’t as good after half-time, but Tigers’ attack kept them comfortably ahead and when they had Jacques O’Neill yellow carded, they conceded immediately, but then hit back with two tries of their own.
Powell insisted: “At half-time we knew Warrington were going to have a say in the game, it’s never going to go all your own way.
“I thought we were a bit surprised by their response, two tries early on put us under a bit of pressure, but we found our way out of that and ended up scoring some smart tries.
“Our attack was class and some of our defensive work was much more rigid than it has been, though we’d want to improve our tryline defence.”
Powell admitted he got “a little bit anxious” after O’Neill was banished.
“They got back to nine points and we were looking a bit ropey,” he recalled.
“But whenever we got into good attacking positions we generally found some quality attacking play that got us points.
“That kept us ticking over, which obviously was the difference in the end.”
O’Brien has probably been the Challenge Cup’s man of the tournament so far, having landed golden-point drop goals in Tigers’ two previous wins.
His try opened the scoring and he added three conversions and two penalties from nine attempts.
Turner also crossed twice in the first half and Paul McShane booted a one-pointer.
The closest Warrington got was 23-14 in the second half after Ben Currie and Mamo - either side of a Jesse Sene-Lefao touchdown - and Toby King had crossed, with Gareth Widdop kicking the first of his two goals.
But Turner and McShane replied to calm the nerves and Josh Charnley’s try for Warrington was nothing more than a consolation.
Castleford Tigers: Evalds, Olpherts, Mata’utia, Shenton, Turner, Trueman, O’Brien, Massey, McShane, Matagi, Holmes, Sene-Lefao, Milner. Subs Watts, Foster, O’Neill, Clare.
Warrington Wolves: Ratchford, Lineham, Mamo, King, Charnley, Austin, Widdop, Hill, Clark, Cooper, Currie, Hughes, Davis. Subs Mulhern, Philbin, Akauola, Walker.
Referee: Chris Kendall (Huddersfield).