Fresh from their somewhat unexpected victory over Leeds Rhinos, the Castleford Tigers must have felt quite confident at delivering a repeat performance and result, when they entertained our in-form Salford Red Devils in Friday night’s Round 15 fixture, especially after having run their visitors extremely close on their visit to the Salford Stadium back in mid-April.
Certainly, the opening stanza seemed to reflect that as the Tigers, having received the ball from the kick-off promptly acquired four back-to-back sets, from a penalty early in the first set, and then head and feed at a scrum following a Salford forward touch of the ball, and finally a second penalty, to take them the full length of the remarkably short Mend-a-Hose Jungle field to apply strong pressure on the Red Devils’ goal-line defence.
Indeed, when the Reds went in front, from Rhys Williams’s score under the posts, in the eleventh minute, having secured the ball from an end-of-set kick along his wing, it was very much against the run of play, underlined by Castleford’s cancelling out four of the points he had gained them in less than a minute of the restart.
From that point onwards, however, the Tigers were barely in the hunt, as the slick, fast, entertaining handling of the Salford players opened up the home side’s defence time and again, with comparative ease, to take as 4-24 points lead going up to the half-time mark.
Probably because of their dominance for, by far, the majority of the game, many might be surprised at their conceding as many as ten points, all of them in the first half, even though their defence, in general, was well in control for almost the whole match.
There were, however, some rather unusual circumstances around the tries which the Tigers did manage to score. The first was the one mentioned above, which might well have levelled the points at 6-6, but for Widdop missing the conversion.
One moment Tim Lafai was in possession of the ball on a clearing run towards the forty-metre line, when he lost control of it, and the next it was in the hands of Castleford’s, Quarequare, who had a clear run to the Salford try-line. In fact, the Salford players scrambled extremely well to prevent him going round to the posts, thus limiting the damage by two points.
The second came as much because of the hooter than any great fault with the Red Devils’ goal-line defence, with their backs to the actual clock. With two tackles still to go in the set, the sound of the hooter coincided with the ball being in the hands of Miller, whose quick thinking saw him put in an unexpected short, overhead kick for it to be collected by Edwards with yet another clear run to the line.
Far more representative of the Salford defence, however, was the fact that it stood unbreeched by any planned move Cas’s attack could muster. On the only other time they managed to cross the line, in the later stages of the second half, they were held up by a swarm of willing defenders.
The Salford attack, as far as entertainment was concerned, was probably, alongside the sixty pointer at Hull, and the similar forty-two against Huddersfield in the Cup, among their best of the season, which is unsurprising given the ideal, dry conditions.
The tries when they came were all thrilling to watch as the Reds clinically ripped open the home defence, and their variations made for all the more enjoyment. The one which possibly caught most people’s eye was their third, when Brodie Croft took the ball to the line before feeding Deon Cross, whose combination of speed, clever swerved running, and dummy was good enough to take him the forty-five metres to the line.
Two rather surprising absentees in their armoury, though, was the lack of any set moves from the scrums, from which they preferred to rely on Lafai’s strong runs into the Tiger’s defence.
Other than those, there seemed a little less physicality than usual which was more than likely because it was not needed. The one which really stood out was Jack Ormondroyd’s thirty metre charge downfield, direct from a Cas goal-line drop-out, midway through the second half.
With a massively important Challenge Cup quarter-final at Hull KR, next week, on their minds, though, it may be that they had decided that discretion was the most appropriate strategy for then, and if they were to come back from there still in the draw for the semi-final, any shortfalls from this particular game would be long forgotten.