Castleford Tigers: 14
Tries: Ellis, Dorn, Shenton
Goals: Sneyd (1)
Warrington Wolves: 30
Tries: Atkins, J Monaghan (2), O’Brien, Evans
Goals: Ratchford (5)
Under the vast floodlights and creaking terraces of their old Wheldon Road ground, this year’s nearly men Castleford couldn’t quite recapture their early season form, and despite all their best attempts, were playing catch up from the off. Warrington were leading 10-4 at half time, courtesy of tries from Ryan Atkins and the outstanding Joel Monaghan in between Jamie Ellis’ effort for the Tigers, and went into the sheds knowing a solid second half would see them through to the semi-finals.
Luke Dorn captured the imagination with a brilliant solo effort for Castleford at the start of the second half, but Castleford’s hopes were dashed through tries from Gareth O’Brien and Rhys Evans. Joel Monaghan completed his brace for the Wolves, before Michael Shenton rounded off a magnificent personal season with a late consolation try – no less than the loyal Castleford fans deserved.
Although devastated, Castleford were philosophical in defeat. Coach Daryl Powell said “The boys have been awesome all year, right from the start of preseason until now. Overall we’ve put Cas back on the map. It’s been a really good year and it was so close to being a great year” – and how right he was. To go from finishing 12th last season, to losing in the Challenge Cup final, and being only two games form Old Trafford represents and incredible achievement. Being tipped for relegation at the start of the year, to come so close to all three major honours was astonishing.
Meanwhile, Wire coach Tony Smith said: “Defence overall won us the game. I was confident we would score some points late in the game”.
Atkins opened the scoring on the back of a great charge down, a ploy Warrington have exploited all season. Although not often to great effect, it came off wonderfully for Atkins to touch down off the back of Ben Harrison’s good work. The lead was, however, short lived as Castleford rallied to score through Jamie Ellis. James Clare’s leap and palm back from a high bomb enabled Ellis to pounce. It was game on at this stage, and until Monaghan’s trademark one-handed finish, defying both gravity and the corner flag, Castleford looked confident.
The first points of the second half came from the reliable boot of Stefan Ratchford, who nailed a tricky penalty from 40 metres. He kicked five goals for Warrington, compared to Marc Sneyd’s sole conversion. Warrington opting to take an uncharacteristic two points was testament to the pressure Castleford had put them under at the start of the second half.
Luke Dorn then went over after a superb solo effort. Sending the Warrington defenders back across the Pennines with a fabulous dummy, he hotfooted his way to the line. Sneyd kicked the goal and once again, Castleford were back to within two points. But this was the last stage at which the Tigers were truly in the contest, as back to back tries soon restored Warrington’s advantage. Gareth O’Brien went over after some good link up play with fellow half Richie Myler, before Rhys Evans crossed over the line again for the Wolves.
It was Monaghan who put the final nail in Castleford’s coffin, another good close range finish for his 33rd try of the season. But for a truly remarkable tackle from – ironically – Warrington bound Daryl Clark, the Aussie flyer could have had yet another hat trick. Scoring 127 tries in just 117 games is a truly astounding return. One wonders just what he has to do to be included in the Super League dream team. Change his nationality perhaps?
With less than ten minutes remaining, Wolves try scorer Evans was sin binned, and Michael Shenton was able to grab a consolation try at the death. Shenton is a shoe in at centre for England now and will surely seize one of the two starting jerseys for this Autumn’s Four Nations series, down under.
This match won’t go down in play-off history. Castleford were brave throughout, but it was just one game too much after an incredibly long season for them. And whilst showing occasional glimpses of being at their brilliant best, Warrington did the minimum required to see off a laboured challenge. A much tougher test will await them at the DW Stadium in Wigan this Friday – Wigan have had a well-deserved week off following their demolition of Huddersfield. The extra weeks preparation could prove vital, as coach Shaun Wane will have anticipated all along being drawn against Warrington, as St Helens were always going to club call Huddersfield or Catalans. It will need a fantastic all round performance and another Man Of the Match performance from Stefan Ratchford to give Warrington a fighting chance against his hometown club.