Castleford Tigers 12 St Helens 26: Niall Evalds named man of the match in heartbreaking Challenge Cup final defeat at Wembley
The margin does not reflect the effort Tigers put in.
They gave their all and were deservedly six points ahead at half-time, but little went right for them in the final 40, when they failed to add to their tally.
Saints levelled with a controversial try and only got two scores clear in the final 10 minutes, becoming the second team - after Hull against Warrington - to overturn a half-time deficit at the new Wembley.
It was a brilliant final, played at a breathtaking pace despite baking hot conditions.
Cas were the better team in the first half, but struggled to get out of their own territory after the break, when Saints stepped up a gear without being able to take a stranglehold on the game until a late flurry of points.
There was some slight consolation for Tigers as their full-back Niall Evalds - a Wembley runner-up with Salford against Leeds nine months earlier, to the the day - was named man of the match receiving the Lance Todd trophy.
Tigers were on the back foot in the opening 15 minutes and did well to only concede once, before scoring on their first attack.
Outstanding defence kept Saints out until the 10th minute when Jonny Lomax’s grubber was covered by Oliver Holmes, but rebounded away from him off a post protector straight to Theo Fages, who dived over the line to make Lachlan Coote’s conversion a formality.
A penalty finally relieved the pressure and Cas scored a sensational try in the next set.
Niall Evalds’s pass sent Peter Mata’utia away down Tigers’ right, he chipped ahead and the ball stood up nicely for the full-back who gathered cleanly to go over. Gareth O’Brien tagged on the two.
Tigers’ second try was just as good. O’Brien chipped the ball between the posts and Jake Trueman read it perfectly, making the catch and dotting down to give his half-back partner an easy kick, making it 12-6.
Trueman has struggled with a back problem all year and the final was his first appearance since Tigers’ win over Warrington Wolves in the previous round.
O’Brien, the golden point hero in Castleford’s opening two ties, also made his comeback, from a knee injury suffered a month ago.
Tigers would have gone two scores clear if referee Liam Moore had awarded a penalty for a high tackle by Fages on Liam Watts, but a six-point lead was the least Tigers deserved at half-time.
It lasted only two minutes into the second half though as Saints levelled with a controversial score.
Coote’s kick was spilled by Marke Percival, then kept in play by Regan Grace and James Roby went over.
Moore indicated a try and after a long deliberation, his video assistant Chris Kendall decided the ball had neither been knocked on or gone touched the sideline.
Coote tagged on the extras and Saints went in front eight minutes later.
There was no debate about this score, Jack Welsby running across the field and delaying his pass to Kevin Naiqama who shipped it quickly on to Tommy Makinson and he squeezed over full length at the corner, too far out for Coote to turn four points into six.
Saints took the two, through Coote, with 14 minutes left when Mata’utia was penalised for obstructing Mark Percival as he chased a kick.
And they went two scores clear in similar fashion five minutes later after O’Brien lost possession and Cas were caught offside.
Coote missed with another attempt after Makinson was tackled in the air and Moore and Kendall ruled Percival hadn’t grounded the ball over Cas’ line.
Saints eventually sealed it two minutes from time when Kyle Amor held off Paul McShane to crash between the posts and Coote’s fifth goal completed the scoring.
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