The Warrington Wolves were bookies favourites, giving eight points on the handicap coupon, as they looked to deal another blow to their embattled future manager at the Castleford Tigers in booking a Wembley date with St Helens.
Daryl Powell’s men were thrashed by the Leeds Rhinos last time out and he knew that a big defeat today may well hasten his departure from his current tenure. Wolves coach Steve Price had a point to prove and would dearly love to deliver the minimum of a Challenge Cup final and ideally a Challenge Cup trophy as he departs at the end of the season.
On paper it was an intriguing fixture.
The Tigers were the fastest out of the blocks and had a couple of half chances inside the opening ten minutes but it was the Wolves who went closest to scoring on twelve when Blake Austin did everything except ground the ball, the Tigers coming up with the ball and getting out of their goal area.
On fifteen Gareth O’Brien broke the deadlock as he took the Paul McShane pass and threw the dummy before ducking under the tacklers and diving over. The Tigers scrum half added the conversion to his own try for a 6-0 lead.
Jake Mamo was sin-binned on nineteen after holding down in the tackle to allow his side to get back and defend their line. The Tigers opted to kick the penalty and O’Brien made it 8-0.
With an eight-point lead it was all Castleford. On twenty-three Jordan Turner was on the overlap to take the pass and go over under the tackle of Stefan Ratchford. The decision was sent to the video official who agreed with the on-field TRY decision. O’Brien added the conversion from the touchline, the Tigers having the best possible start to the game.
On twenty-seven the Tigers went in again after a great Mata’utia break got then close to the Wolves line. From the next play the ball was moved wide for Turner to get his second. O’Brien pushed his touchline conversion attempt wide of the uprights, Castleford 18-0 ahead and looking in no trouble.
On thirty-eight Paul McShane kicked a thirty-metre drop goal to give Warrington a four try mountain to climb in the second half as they trailed by 19-0.
After having a try turned down by the video referee on forty-two, the Wolves used the ball well and Ben Currie used his strength to push past two tacklers and stretch for the line to score. Ratchford was unable to add the conversion, the Wolves off the mark.
Two minutes later Jake Mamo bust the Castleford line and went down the right wing to score from forty metres. Ratchford was again off target, Warrington doing it by fours rather than sixes.
On forty-eight the Tigers steadies the ship with fast hands ending up with Jesse Sene-Lefao who walked through a gap to ground without a Warrington hand on him. The conversion was wide of the uprights, the Tigers taking a 23-8 lead.
O’Neill was sin-binned on fifty-two for lifting, the Tigers down to twelve for ten minutes.
A stumbling Toby King was next to score, down the middle and sliding over the line after Warrington kept the ball alive. Gareth Widdop added the conversion for 14-23 but on fifty-six Jordan Turner completed his hat-trick, this time with three tacklers attached as he crashed the line and forced the ball to ground. O’Brien added brilliantly from wide.
The Tigers were into the final on the hour mark thanks to a great Paul McShane try after a great interchange with Foster, diving over the line for a four pointer. O’Brien missed the conversion but at 33-14, the game was rapidly drifting beyond the Wolves.
It was becoming a defensive nightmare from both sides as Josh Charnley took a long ball with the smallest of overlaps to go in at the corner. Widdop was superb with the boot as he added the conversion from wide to reduce the arrears to thirteen points.
The Tigers kicked a penalty through O’Brien on seventy after a late hit but missed another attempt in the final seconds, the Tigers taking a 35-20 victory and crushing Wolves hopes.
Castleford Tigers upset the bookies and the pundits and blew away a Warrington side who seemed to freeze on the big occasion and were a shadow of their normal selves. From the first whistle the Tigers were the best side and they fully deserved the win and the Wembley date in July to take on St Helens in what promises to be a fantastic final between two sides who are both exponents of open rugby.
Castleford Tigers: Evalds, Turner (3T), Shenton, Mata’utia, Olpherts, Trueman, O’Brien (T, 5G), Massey, McShane (T, DG), Matagi, Holmes, Sene-Lefao (T), Milner. Subs: Watts, Foster, O’Neill (SB on 52), Clare.
Warrington Wolves: Ratchford, Lineham, Mamo (T, SB on 19), King (T), Charnley (T), Austin, Widdop (2G), Hill, Clark, Cooper, Currie (T), Hughes, Davis. Subs: Mulhern, Philbin, Akauola, Walker.
Referee: Chris Kendall.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, 8-0, 12-0, 14-0, 18-0, 19-0 : HT : 19-4, 19-8, 23-8, 23-12, 23-14, 27-14, 29-14, 33-14 33-18, 33-20, 35-20 : FT.