Hard fought win takes Castleford Tigers to brink of history

Zak Hardaker dives over for the first try for Castleford Tigers at Salford.
Zak Hardaker dives over for the first try for Castleford Tigers at Salford.

Castleford Tigers have got one hand on the League Leaders’ Shield after a committed defensive display in tricky conditions saw them record a 23-4 win at Salford Red Devils.

The rain and a home team desperate for points did not allow the Tigers to play their free flowing game, but they dug in and had the class to score four tries to one to go back 10 points clear with only five games left.

Another win next Thursday against local rivals Wakefield Trinity will clinch the league title for the first time in the club’s history.

Cas are also guaranteed a home game in the play-off semi-finals as they are still 11 points clear of Hull FC.

The Tigers set off well with a Luke Gale grubber kick forcing a goal-line drop-out in the first minute. From the next set Mike McMeeken went close as he was held on the line on the last tackle.

Salford’s first attack saw Niall Evalds make a break and send Ryan Lannon over, but the video referee saw an obstruction in back play and disallowed the effort.

Two minutes later the Tigers were ahead as Zak Hardaker went over following a dummy-half run on the last tackle by Paul McShane. The conversion by Gale made it 6-0.

It was Castleford’s turn to have a try ruled out when Grant Millington came up with a ball steal and forced his way over the line, but the video referee ruled that McMeeken had also had hands on the Salford player when the ball was ripped out.

Another score was turned down on 14 minutes when the hosts were denied for obstruction again after Manu Vatuvei dived over. He looked to have dropped the ball over the line anyway.

More pressure was forced with Jy Hitchcox driven back after collecting a high kick for another drop-out.

The Tigers survived, however, and added to their lead as Hardaker ran a great line to take a pass from Hitchcox and charge over for a well taken try that was goaled by Gale.

Gale produced a 40-20 kick that ensured Cas stayed on top, but they were unable to add to their lead before half-time with Jake Webster going closest, almost reaching a Ben Roberts grubber kick over the back-line.

The start of the second half saw the rain lash down and the Tigers dropped the ball several times to invite pressure.

Salford got their first points on the board as Todd Carney’s grubber kick was chased by Vatuvei and he got ahead of Joel Monaghan to just get the ball down an inch from the back line, the video referee confirming a try.

More pressure followed, but Cas put up some fantastic defence as Kriss Brining, Lannon and Craig Kopczak were all held up over the line and Lannon was denied by a forward pass decision.

The Tigers finally put a full set in and were rewarded with a crucial try off the last play when McShane came up with a clever run from acting-half, dummying Adam Walne and charging in for a crucial score to which Gale added the extras.

Another try soon followed as Jesse Sene-Lefao’s well timed pass gave Hardaker the chance to race clear. He passed onto Gale, who was only half-tackled, picked himself up and found his full-back who then sent Hitchcox over for the best try of the night.

Gale could not convert, but did land a drop-goal six minutes from time a complete a satisfying 23-4 victory.

Scorers - Salford: Try Vatuvei. Castleford: Tries Hardaker 2, McShane, Hitchcox; goals Gale 3, drop-goal Gale.

Salford Red Devils: Evalds; Johnson, Jones, Bibby, Vatuvei; Lui, Carney; Walne, Tomkins, Hauraki, Murdoch-Masila, Lannon, Kopczak. Subs: Brining, Murray, Krasniqi, Griffin.

Castleford Tigers: Hardaker; Monaghan, Webster, Minikin, Hitchcox; Roberts, Gale; Millington, McShane, Sene-Lefao, O Holmes, McMeeken, Massey. Subs: Foster, Milner, Cook, Springer.

Referee: Chris Kendall.

Half-time: 0-12.

Attendance: 2,811.