Castleford Tigers’ Wembley dream was over as soon as it started as they could not contain Super League leaders St Helens despite a big effort at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle.
A 36-18 sixth round Ladbrokes Challenge Cup defeat was a bit harsh on the Tigers, but there was no mistaking the class of a Saints side led by their hat-trick hero Ben Barba.
Every time Barba has come up against Cas he has been man of the match and once again he proved the difference between the teams, setting up tries as well as scoring them. Half-back Danny Richardson was also impressive, although the table toppers will know they have been in a game.
Despite putting in one of their most consistent first halves of the season the Tigers somehow found themselves 12-0 down at half-time.
They looked up for the contest right from the kick-off, determined to get in St Helens’ faces and cut down some of the scintillating attacking that the Saints have been producing this season.
But high kicks from Danny Richardson were causing problems as Ryan Morgan got to one first only to knock-on near the Cas line and home winger Jy Hitchcox dropped the next bomb to give the visitors an extra attacking set.
A third similar kick later in the half led to a controversially awarded penalty for obstruction on the chasers.
A grubber kick by Ben Barba, meanwhile, rolled just too far and Paul McShane’s grubber at the other end did the same.
The first real chance fell to the Tigers after Mike McMeeken’s great offload near the try-line. Jamie Ellis then attempted to get a pass over the top to Greg Manikin, but Mark Percival batted it back to save a try sat the expense of a goal-line drop-out.
An Ellis kick to the corner was reached by Minikin, but Cas could not make anything of it.
It was against the run of play when Saints took the lead on 15 minutes as Barba took Ellis’s high kick and a smart little pass sent winger Regan Grace racing away for a length of the field effort that was converted by Richardson.
A Barba break off a Richardson pass soon after threatened another score, but his pass was dropped by Zeb Taia.
Jon Wilkin was held up over the line thanks to a great tackle by Jesse Sene-Lefao, but another controversial penalty gave the visitors two more points with Richardson kicking a goal after Grant Millington had been deemed to have obstructed.
St Helens stretched their lead further with another length of the field effort, this time by Barba after Ellis’s kick had been caught by Minikin, but his pass inside went to ground with Shenton and McMeeken trying to make something of the attacking opportunity.
The 12-0 deficit was certainly tough on the Tigers and they needed a good start to the second half, but did not get it as they came under pressure straight away after letting the ball bounce out over the back line.
The home defence cracked as Barba jinked his way over the line for a well taken try and Richardson’s goal made it 18-0.
Cas did finally get some points on the board when Jake Trueman produced a nice dummy and sidestep to go over for a try that was converted by Ellis.
Their joy was shortlived, however, as Saints hit back with Barba’s short pass sending Ryan Morgan over for a try well converted by Richardson.
The Tigers continued to show spirit and came up with another try as Shenton’s superb pass sent Minikin over in the corner for the try he had threatened all afternoon.
Ellis added a touchline conversion, but once again Saints bounced straight back as Richardson waltzed his way through a gap for a try he converted.
Barba then completed his hat-trick with a solo effort from 40 metres out, going past some tired looking defenders, and Richardson’s goal took the score out to 36-12.
The Tigers did manage a consolation try in the last minute when McMeeken intercepted and raced away from halfway. Ellis added the goal, but it was all too late with Saints worthy winners of an entertaining contest.
Scorers - Castleford: Tries Trueman, Minikin, McMeeken; goals Ellis 3. St Helens: Tries Grace, Barba 3, Morgan, Richardson; goals Richardson 6.
Castleford Tigers: Shenton; Minikin, Webster, Wardle, Hitchcox; Ellis, McShane; Watts, Milner, Sene-Lefao, Holmes, McMeeken, Foster. Subs: Moors, Millington, Cook, Trueman.
St Helens: Barba; Makinson, Morgan, Percival, Grace; Lomax, Richardson; Amor, Roby, Thompson, Peyroux, Taia, Wilkin. Subs: Fages, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Douglas, Knowles.
Referee: James Child.