Hull KR 32 Castleford Tigers 33: Gareth O'Brien wins epic Cup game for Castleford
GARETH O’BRIEN - who else? - stepped up to break Hull KR hearts again and secure Castleford Tigers a Betfred Challenge Cup victory in one of the most remarkable games in recent times.
It was Castleford’s NINTH attempted drop-goal in Golden Point extra-time and came in the 99th minute.
Right until the death, exhausted players on both sides were somehow still finding energy to either get in position to find a kick or charge one down. It was brutal.
However, it was particularly brutal on winless Hull KR who lost in Golden Point for the second time in three games this term, had led 22-6 at half-time and then 32-18 with only nine minutes remaining, only to see brilliant Man of Steel Paul McShane inspire Castleford’s remarkable fightback.
Derrell Olpherts dashed in for his second try and, with just four minutes remaining, hooker McShane dummied over for his double for Danny Richardson to make it 32-28.
Then, with the final play of normal time and the hooter having already sounded, Castleford kept the ball alive wonderfully before McShane produced more wizardry to put Jordan Turner in to level the game.
Richardson could not convert meaning the game went into extra-time.
Both sides controlled the ball and defended brilliantly given the circumstances but neother side could make the killer punch, Richardson, O’Brien and Trueman having countless attempts at a one-pointer while Rovers were restricted to just two.
But in the FOURTH period of extra-time, after Ryan Hall had charged down Richardson’s latest attempt, O’Brien - who famously relegated Rovers with a Golden Point drop-goal for Salford Red Devils in the 2016 Million Pound Games - held his nerve.
Ironically, he was only playing because regular No1 Niall Evalds was in hospital with his wife expecting a baby.
Castleford, then, are in tomorrow’s quarter-final draw and their hopes of sending head coach Daryl Powell out with a trophy before he heads to Warrington Wolves in 2022 remain on course.
For all they were sloppy early on, their spirit tro essentially fight back twice was admirable.
They had clawed back to within just four points before the hour mark courtesy of McShane and Olpherts’ opening tries.
However, Rovers captain Shaun Kenny-Dowall came up with two big plays, scoring one try and immediately creating another for the excellent Jordan Abdull to see KR seeingly back in control at 32-18 only for that stunning riposte.
Earlier, Rovers proved too swift and clinical for a Castleford side who looked surprisingly shaky from the off.
Rovers are notorious poor starters as demonstrated twice already this season when going behind early in defeats to Catalans Dragons and St Helens.
Indeed, they had conceded first in ten of their previous 11 games before tonight but finally got it right when Ethan Ryan scored within eight minutes.
Coming in for Ben Crooks in his first game since last September, the former Bradford Bulls winger finished well from Adam Quinlan’s slick pass after Jordan Abdull had helped force an early goalline drop-out.
By that point, for Castleford, Grant Millington had already fumbled and Trueman been forced into touch to demonstrate their unease.
Rovers looked confident in possession and, even though Tigers responded after managing some sustained pressure of their own, it did not deter Tony Smith’s side.
Trueman scored the visitors’ try in the 22nd minute, slipping past Luis Johnson, the former Castleford forward on debut after joining from Warrington Wolves in the autumn.
Richardson converted and in the next set - with Powell bringing on Liam Watts, Adam Milner and Daniel Smith in a triple substitution - he unleashed the latter but they could not convert.
It looked like proving costly; Rovers made the most of the let-off by scoring three tries in just eight minutes.
It was a wonderful purple patch. They had the diminutive trio of Jez Litten, Matt Parcell and Mikey Lewis buzzing around like fireflies in the middle of the field, causing Castleford’s big men all sorts of issues.
Hooker Litten, essentially playing at loose forward, shook off defenders to set up Adam Quinlan, although the final pass did look forward.
Abdull converted and when Castleford conceded a penalty in the next set, Albert Vete - definitely Rovers’ big man compared to the aforementioned trip - rumbled over for his first try since joining from Melbourne Storm.
It was the prop’s strong carry and offload from the restart that put them on the front foot again although Powell will be furious with the state of his side’s goalline defence at the other end as Parcell eventually dummied over.
Lewis converted both tries and his dominant side looked destined to score yet again when Litten broke through more feeble defence in the next set.
However, the hooker opted against passing and was collared by Oli Holmes so Castleford still had hope trailing 22-6 at the break.
Eventually, hope turned into reality.
Hull KR: Quinlan; Ryan, Minikin, Kenny-Dowall, Hall; Abdull, Lewis; Sims, Parcell, King, Linnett, Johnson, Lawler. Substitutes: Vete, Litten, Mustapha, Keinhorst.
Castleford Tigers: O’Brien; Olpherts, Mata’utia, Shenton, Turner; Trueman, Richardson; Griffin, McShane, Millington, Blair, Holmes, Massey. Substitutes: Watts, Milner, Sene-Lefao, Smith.
Referee: Robert Hicks (Oldham)