Castleford Tigers 38
Tries: Dorn 2, Roberts 2, Solomona, Moors Goals: Gale 6/6
St Helens 42
Tries: Swift 3, Percival 2, Quinlan, Makinson Goals: Walsh 7/7
Adam Swift’s hat-trick helped St Helens see off a spirited Castleford Tigers to secure their place in the Super League semi-finals, ending their opponent’s play-off hopes in the progress.
In a frantic night at Wheldon Road, Castleford fought back from 18-0 down to take the lead in the second half, before the reigning champions showed their nerve to battle to victory.
Castleford started strongly, forcing Saints centre Mark Percival into touch from the opening set, before winning a goal-line drop out from more strong defence, this time on Swift.
The Tigers did manage to touch down from the resulting set, but Andy Lynch’s effort was ruled out after Junior Moors knocked on Luke Gale’s kick.
That scare sparked the reigning champions into life, and after Swift broke down the left-hand side from deep, Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook was held up over the line, only for the ball to be moved back to the left winger who span over from the following play.
After starting with such ferocity, Castleford were suddenly out of sorts, and Swift doubled his tally for the evening after a slick handling move which included a smart flick pass from Jon Wilkin. Luke Walsh converted for the second time from out wide.
Saints were rampant at this point, and scored their third try before 15 minutes had even been played. James Roby made a trademark break from dummy-half, before a neat Josh Jones pass saw Percival ghost through.
The home side were given a much needed reprieve when the video referee adjudged Wilkin had been held up after crashing over by the posts, and they finally showed their quality when full-back Luke Dorn stepped his opposite number to score underneath the sticks.
Five minutes later and the Australian then repeated the feat, once again off a Gale pass, to drag Castleford right back into the tie.
Suddenly the game had been turned on its head, with the Yorkshire side displaying some attacking verve, and five minutes before half time Ben Roberts shrugged off two Saints defenders to leave Gale with a simple conversion to level the scores.
Stand-off Roberts, who kicked the winning drop goal in the 25-24 triumph over Saints in June, attempted a repeat on the stroke of half time, but he skewed his effort wide under good defensive pressure.
In almost a reverse of the first half, it was St Helens who started on top and looked certain to strike. However Mike McMeeken reacted well to pouch a Walsh kick and break away, before showing the presence of mind to offload to Roberts, who sprinted past the retreating McCarthy-Scarsbrook and give Castleford the lead for the first time.
Saints did hit back to level the scores only moments later, when young centre Percival crashed over for his second, but Gale nudged the home side ahead with a penalty on 55 minutes.
Roberts then turned from hero to villain by criminally knocking on from the kick off, allowing the champions to shift the ball for Quinlan to glide over. There was more than a hint of controversy about the score, with Joe Greenwood seemingly obstructing Roberts close to the try line.
Coach Daryl Powell will quite rightly feel aggrieved about that decision, but in truth soft errors and a lack of concentration were costing the Tigers.
Prop Gadwin Springer, only just on from the bench, was penalised for a high tackle on Alex Walmsley, and from the resulting set the ball found its way into the hands of Tommy Makinson, who dived low for the line to touch down. Walsh, stretched the lead to 10 points with yet another superb touchline conversion.
Yet again Castleford rallied after looking dead and buried. Scrum-half Gale, surely a contender for England selection in the Autumn, threw a glorious floated pass to Denny Solomona, who just avoided embarrassment by grounding the ball as he slipped perilously close to the dead-ball line.
However Keiron Cunningham’s men showed their champion qualities with a thrilling counter attack. Winger Swift put Wilkin through a hole with a smart pass, and the captain showed great composure to wait for the 22-year-old to return on his shoulder in support and complete his hat-trick under the posts.
Typically the drama was yet to end. Percival had his hat-trick try disallowed by yet another video ref call, before Junior Moors swatted away Saints defenders to score with a minute left on the clock.
The Tigers had 30 seconds to score from their own try line, but ultimately left themselves too much to do and will look back on some poor errors and harsh calls for their loss.
Castleford Tigers: Dorn; Gibson, McMeeken, Shenton, Solomona; Roberts, Gale; Lynch, Milner, Millington; Holmes, Moors, Wheeldon. Subs: Boyle, Maher, Springer, McShane
St Helens: Quinlan; Makinson, Percival, Jones, Swift; Burns, Walsh; Amor, Roby, Walmsley; McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Wilkin, Turner. Subs: Richards, Greenwood, Flanagan, Thompson