CASTLEFORD TIGERS claimed the League Leader’s Shield with a dominant 45-20 win over local rivals Wakefield.
The game showcased everything that has made Cas so successful this season, with a swashbuckling attacking performance allied to some robust defence.
Ben Roberts was the star, laying on two tries for Zak Hardaker and having a hand in two more. Jake Webster scored four crash over tries while Luke Gale was at his buzzing best, marching his team around the field.
Wakefield were superb themselves for 50 minutes and had a decent fist at spoiling the party, but were unable to cope with a Cas side that was roared on by a capacity crowd.
If anything, the crowd acted against the Tigers in the early stages. Aware of the 96 year trophy drought there to be broken, the usually unflappable Cas were visibly nervous.
Within the first two minutes, Anthony England forced a knock on and celebrated like he’d won the match itself, a message, if one was needed, that Wakefield would not simply roll over. Liam Finn kick an early penalty and Zak Hardaker sent the kick off dead. Cas were rattled.
They would rally, however, and show exactly why they’ve earned so many neutral fans this year. On the back of their first penalty, they went through quick hands close to the line before Ben Roberts sent over Hardaker, a whir of men in motion and attacking options.
Wakey struck straight back via Ben Jones-Bishop. Greg Minikin – one of the worst affected by the pre-match jitters – failed to field a kick and lost the ball, whereupon fast hands from Reece Lynn and Dean Hadley saw the former Leeds winger stroll in.
There wasn’t to be any let up. A manic piece of Cas play saw them stride down the left, offload, lose the ball, steal it back and subsequently force their way over through Mike McMeekin. If the Tigers were to win it, it was to be done playing their trademark flamboyant style. This was not a night of structured, planned play, and all the better for it.
Hardaker was making an impact whenever he saw the ball and would create the next score. He ran the same play with Roberts that had made the first try, jinking around the back, before breaking the line and flinging an offload inside to Jake Webster. The nerves were well and truly settled and Cas fans could sense that the party was about to start.
Wakefield, of course, were having none of that. They took advantage of a silly penalty conceded by Michael Shenton and a defensive concentration lapse allowed Mason Caton-Brown to burrow in from acting half. 18-10 at the interval if anything flattered the Tigers.
The break would only embolden Wakey. They monopolised possession in the early stages and camped down in the Castleford end. When Danny Kirmond touched down to bring the gap down to two, there were more than a few concerned faces among the expectant masses behind the sticks.
It is so often on small incidents that games change, and there was a quantum moment in the offing for Castleford. Attacking along the left, Luke Gale threw a speculative pass towards his winger. Ben Jones-Bishop, one of the fastest men in the Super League, was interested but misjudged his attempt at the interception, allowing Greg Eden to mark his return from injury with a try.
Wakefield put the kick off out on the full and within second Cas were over again, Jake Webster extending the lead to twelve points and placing one hand on the trophy. The second hand would follow with 18 minutes to play as Webster completed his hat-trick, crashing onto a Roberts pass to notch his first triple in eleven years. There was to be more for the Kiwi centre, crossing for a fourth in garbage time as Wakefield tired.
Jowitt pulled a consolation back for Wakey before Roberts added yet another try assist for Hardaker to finish the scoring that he started.
Cas had waited close to a hundred years for the chance to call themselves league champions, and nobody, not even their biggest rivals, was going to stand in their way.