ANOTHER end of year and yet another bitter disappointment for Castleford Tigers.
The 2017 Grand Final loss to Leeds Rhinos will always remain the biggest low and that increasingly looks like being this side’s best chance of ever ending that ongoing wait for a maiden league title.
However, to not only be meekly knocked out of the play-offs but also be kept pointless for a second year running, must feel almost as disconcerting for Daryl Powell and his deflated squad tonight.
Having lost 14-0 at Wigan Warriors in last year’s semi-final, abject Castleford fell 22-0 here having never looked capable of overcoming an impressive Salford Red Devils.
It is Ian Watson’s team, then, who - having enjoyed their finest-ever Super League finish of third - will face the losers of tonight’s qualifier between leaders St Helens and Wigan for a place at Old Trafford.
Given Castleford finished fifth, it was always a long shot that they could navigate their way to the October 12th showpiece.
However, having worked so hard to eliminate Warrington Wolves on their travels last week, it was hugely dispiriting to succumb in such a flat manner here.
Castleford’s players had shown great generosity by helping to pay for the coach travel of 700 fans last night.
However, they were even more generous to Salford, gifting their opponents a relatively simple passage into a Super League semi-final just when everything is supposed to be so hard-earned.
The West Yorkshire club were devoid of any real ideas or attacking fluency, kicked poorly and lost their discipline, too often.
Trailing 14-0 at the break, they had ample pressure at the start of the second period but did nothing with it.
Instead, after Salford comfortably soaked it up, Powell’s side stumbled through the final quarter making error after error in their own half.
One of their fans threw a flare onto the pitch in the 69th minute flare but it is hard to understand why given it only prolonged their side’s misery.
Instead, after Jake Trueman’s kick went out on the full, Man of Steel contender Jackson Hastings shimmied his way over in the 72nd minute; how Castleford needed someone of his ingenuity.
Krisnan Inu converted and added a penalty on the hooter.
Back-to-back tries did the damage early on and the visitors - who welcomed back Nathan Massey and Greg Eden - never truly looked like recovering.
Trueman had already been bundled into touch inside his own half when he was then given little chance of taking an ill-conceived pass from Paul McShane, the usually reliable hooker.
From that possession, Salford struck with alarming ease, Tyrone McCarthy latching onto Tui Lolohea’s grubber in the 11th minute.
Inu slotted the first of his five goals and when Grant Millington was penalised for interference in the next set, they crossed again.
Admittedly, there was some debate to this one as Greg Minikin’s fine tackle seemed to have done enough to nudge Jake Bibby out of bounds before the Salford centre touched down after hitting Hastings’ floated pass.
Nevertheless, referee Ben Thaler awarded ‘try’ on the field and video official Robert Hicks did not see enough evidence to overturn the decision.
The one thing that does need overturning - before the 2020 campaign begins - is that ridiculous rule itself.
Even the Salford players had lined up ready for a 20m restart.
Still, Castleford had no one to blame for the rest of their inefficiencies.
On the back of a penalty, they offered nothing in attack, failing to put on even one attacking play before dying with the ball near Salford’s side.
It was so easy for Watson’s team.
That said, Niall Evalds delivered arguably the tackle of the season as he did remarkably to deny Jordan Rankin in the 24th minute.
Salford had spilled near halfway and Peter Mata'utia quickly switched play for the Castleford full-back to break clear and find space.
He seemed certain to speed into the corner but England Knights star Evalds somehow made up the ground to drag his opposite number into touch just short.
Home fans rose to their feet and rightly so. Soon after, when Liam Watts offloaded to a Salford player - yes, even the Man of Steel contender had an off night - Tigers erred again and Inu struck the penalty for 14-0.
If Powell was not aggrieved enough, he then had to watch his isde give away another penalty when attacking Salford’s line, Cheyse Blair pulled up for obstruction, once more illustrating just how badly his side’s timing truly was.
There will be changes for 2020 and, clearly, there is still plenty of work need to be done if this club is ever to claim Super League success.
Salford Red Devils: Evalds; Sio, Welham, Bibby, Inu; Lolohea, Hastings; Mossop, Tomkins, Dudson, Jones, Griffin, McCarthy.
Castleford Tigers: Rankin; Clare, Minikin, Blair, Eden; Trueman, Mata’utia; Watts, McShane, Millington, Holmes, Clarkson, Massey. Substitutes: Milner, Cook, O’Neill, Smith.
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield)