FEATHERSTONE Rovers pulled off a major upset by beating Castleford Tigers 23-16 in Saturday’s thrilling Carnegie Challenge Cup fourth round tie at Bigfellas Stadium in front of a crowd of 4,165.
Castleford, who reached last year’s semi-finals, never recovered from the shock of conceding three tries in an eight-minute spell as they were beaten by part-time opponents for the second time in three years, following their 34-28 home defeat against Barrow in 2010.
Rovers, who conceded 60 points at home to Sheffield Eagles just seven days earlier, produced a superb performance to spark a pitch invasion and rekindle memories of their glory days.
Alan Agar, who coached Rovers to the last of their three Cup triumphs at Wembley in 1983, was among the crowd at the Bigfellas Stadium to witness a memorable victory by the underdogs amid a wonderful atmosphere.
Castleford made the perfect start but were quickly swamped by the enthusiasm of Daryl Powell’s part-time outfit.
Yet an early touchline run by Cas winger Nick Youngquest and a midfield break from Jonathan Walker sent out the danger signals for the home side and it was all too predictable when Castleford opened the scoring on four minutes.
A trademark run by Rangi Chase set up the position for lively hooker Daryl Clark to force his way over from dummy half and Kirk Dixon added the goal to make it 6-0.
Rovers initially needed a stroke of good fortune to get a foothold in the game.
That came when Castleford’s Brett Ferres lost possession on the Rovers 20-metre line and quick thinking by stand-off Kyle Briggs got winger Tangi Ropati away on an 80-metre sprint down the slope for his side’s first try.
The Super League outfit were reduced to 12 men on 13 minutes when Clark held down Featherstone loose forward Jon Hepworth after he had threatened the Castleford line and Rovers took full advantage with two tries in his absence.
A weaving run by former Castleford winger Tom Saxton pulled the Tigers defence out of position and Briggs fended off the attempted tackle of Ferres to touch down.
Castleford were still reeling from the shock when Rovers full-back Ian Hardman took a return pass from centre Greg Worthington to score a third try and it got even better for the Championship team when Worthington took Hepworth’s pass to go over for a fourth on the half-hour mark.
The Tigers were clearly rocking at 20-6 down but they grabbed themselves a lifeline five minutes before the break when an offload from prop Craig Huby, returning from a 12-month injury lay-off, created the space for Clark to set up a try for winger Josh Griffin.
The visitors suffered blows early in the second half when full-back Richard Owen and centre Dixon both hobbled from the field and they had a let-off when Saxton was denied a try for putting a foot in touch.
However, with Chase and Clark a constant threat, Castleford began to show their class down the slope and it took some tremendous rearguard defence to keep them out.
Ferres was a fingertip away from touching down Chase’s grubber kick but the pressure finally told on 67 minutes when Youngquest gathered Chase’s long pass to squeeze over at the corner.
Castleford captain Danny Orr took over the goalkicking and landed the touchline conversion to cut the deficit to six points but their hopes were finally dashed seven minutes from the end when Liam Finn put over a drop to add to his three goals.