Tigers Bounce Back!
Posted: Friday 11th August 2017 - 10:34 PM
Castleford Tigers placed themselves on the brink of history on Friday night, defeating Salford Red Devils 23-4 at the AJ Bell Stadium.
The win increases Castleford’s lead at the top of the Betfred Super 8s ladder back to ten points, and puts them within a single victory of securing the League Leaders’ Shield for the first time in the club’s 91-year history.
A pair of tries from man-of-the-match Zak Hardaker set the Tigers in good stead in the first period, and Salford never really recovered. Paul McShane and Jy Hitchcox added to Castleford’s tally when play resumed in the second half, cementing a vital victory.
From the off, there was a heightened sense of atmosphere within the AJ Bell Stadium, due to the high stakes of the game, and the closeness of the two sets of supporters within the ground.
There was a definite big-game feel, and the action on the field didn’t disappoint.
It appeared as if Salford had struck first in the contest. However, an early effort from the Red Devils was ruled out for crossing in the build-up.
Instead, it was Castleford who opened the scoring via Hardaker, after some smart stuff from McShane to avoid a bunch of would-be tacklers.
Salford’s second disallowed try of the evening followed, thanks to the intervention of the video referee. On his home debut, Manu Vatuvei showcased his legendary blend of speed and power to touch down next to the corner flag. However, another obstruction was spotted by Ben Thaler, chalking off the four-pointer.
The hosts certainly had momentum behind them though, despite being six points down. For a large spell of the first half, Ian Watson’s side commanded possession and caused a number of repeat sets.
But, points are what are important in rugby league, and it was clear who the more clinical outfit was.
Within moments of gaining significant field position within Salford’s half, the Tigers were in for their second try of the evening. Spotting a gaping hole in the centre of the hosts’ defence, Hitchcox took the ball from acting half and fed Hardaker a peach of an offload. The England international still had work to do, but there was no stopping him on the path to his second try.
The rest of the half failed to yield any more points, as the two sides tussled in monsoon-like conditions. Needless to say, it wasn’t the greatest display of ball handling in Super League history.
The rain continued throughout the break and greeted the players as they re-entered the fray.
Salford, in a do-or-die situation in terms of their season, were always likely to provide a response and it didn’t take long for them to get themselves on the board – Vatuvei touching down after a smart kick through Castleford lines.
Todd Carney failed to add the extras, meaning Salford remained two scores down. But, they were undoubtedly the side piling on the pressure.
Handling errors continued to haunt the Tigers through the early stages of the second period, meaning almost all of their attempts to break out of their own half were foiled.
However, the visitors remained defensively sound and frequently held Salford at bay, despite the Red Devils throwing all but the kitchen sink at the whitewash.
After all the great defence, a well-deserved break was inevitable for the Tigers, and it finally came on the hour-mark. A pressure-relieving penalty placed Castleford in striking territory, and they used their set perfectly ahead of the last tackle.
A trademark sweeping play on the last seemed a near certainty, so the Salford defence was completely taken aback when McShane took matters into his own hands, scooting from acting half to plant the ball over the line.
The score opened up a 14-point lead going into the final quarter, and sprung the travelling support back into life. At this point, the game’s next try was obviously going to be vital.
Luckily for the Tigers, a rare piece of broken play emerged a few moments later. In a move that spanned fifty metres, Hardaker ran rings around the opposition before finally managing to fling a wild pass over to Hitchcox, who did the rest in the corner. Gale missed the conversion, but the damage was done.
Salford attempted to drag themselves back into the game in the closing stages, but their efforts were in vain.
The final dagger came five minutes from time, as Gale – cool as you like – slotted over a drop goal from in front of the posts, adding to Castleford’s comfortable lead.
The victory means that next week’s derby clash with Wakefield Trinity takes on added significance, as a victory will secure the League Leaders’ Shield and Castleford’s first ever first-place league finish.
Final Score: Castleford 23-4 Salford
Hardaker, Monaghan, Webster, Minikin, Hitchcox, Roberts, Gale, Millington, McShane, Sene-Lefao, O. Holmes, McMeeken, Massey
Interchange: Milner, Cook, Springer, Foster
Tries: Hardaker (2), McShane, Hitchcox
Conversions: Gale (3/4)
Drop Goal: Gale
Salford Red Devils
Evalds, Johnson, Bibby, Jones, Vatuvei, Lui, Carney, Walne, Tomkins, Hauraki, Murdoch-Masila, Lannon, Kopczak
Interchange: Griffin, Brining, Krasniqi, Murray
Conversions: Carney (0/1)
*Match report by Ross Williams
*Photogrpah by Melanie Allatt