Castleford Tigers failed to all but clinch their place in the Super 8s as they let an eight-point lead slip in the last quarter to lose 22-18 at Salford Red Devils.
A flurry of late penalties gave Salford their victory as Castleford paid for their indiscipline and were hammered by a penalty count from Jamie Child that went 10-1 against them after the first six minutes.
To cap an awful night for the Tigers they lost three more players to injuries with Joel Monaghan, Mike McMeeken and Jake Webster all having to go off.
In the circumstances it was a good effort to still be in the game until the final hooter, but the defeat has made them nervous on the decision on whether Salford get their points back for their salary cap breach.
Cas suffered an early blow when they lost winger Joel Monaghan with a dislocated shoulder in only the fourth minute, but they took the lead soon after as Jake Webster crossed from Luke Dorn’s pass. Luke Gale added a good goal to make it 6-0.
Salford hit back to score from their first serious attack when Michael Dobson sent Gareth O’Brien over, the home full-back brushing off an attempted tackle by Mike McMeeken.
O’Brien could not convert, but added the extras seven minutes later after Dobson touched down Robert Lui’s grubber kick over the line and Salford were 10-6 up.
Back came the Tigers with a great break by Webster, but the move ended as McMeeken’s attempted offload to Ben Crooks ended with the ball going in touch.
They did score their second try on the half-hour as a fantastic piece of play by Dorn saw him attack the home line and come up with a superb inside pass, well backed up by Webster for his second score.
Gale’s goal put Cas 12-10 ahead and that was how it stayed to half-time.
Salford did look set to regain the lead as Greg Johnson went for the corner, but a superb try-saved tackle by Paddy Flynn forced the Red Devils winger to lose the ball.
Cas started the second half strongly with a great break by Tom Holmes following Junior Moors’ offload only for the attack to end with a forward pass.
They did score, however, when Dorn ran through a big gap in the home defence to race in for a try his display deserved. Gale’s goal made it 18-10.
It was all Cas at this stage, but they could not take advantage of their pressure as Moors lost the ball inches short of the line.
Gale’s high kick forced a drop-out, but in back play the Tigers lost Webster to an ankle injury and they were hit further soon after when Salford moved the ball well for Mason Caton-Brown to go over in the corner. O’Brien’s touchline conversion cut the lead down to two points.
Cas looked set to stretch their advantage when Danny Tickle attacked the home line and Larne Patrick was taken out off the ball. With the line beckoning a try looked certain, but although a penalty was forthcoming - the Tigers’ only one of the second half - no yellow card followed.
From the ensuing set Adam milner was tackled inches short and that proved Castleford’s last scoring chance.
Salford went back up field and were given a penalty for a head high tackle by Milner. Full-back O’Brien kicked the goal and it was all square.
Six minutes from time the Red Devils were awarded another penalty for a high tackle, on the say so of video referee Joe Cobb after Child had not signalled anything wrong with the tackle. O’Brien lined up the kick again and landed it to nudge his side into a fortunate lead.
Cas, with their three injured players off the field, looked tired and could not respond and conceded yet another penalty for a high shot on the final hooter. O’Brien goaled again to make the final score 22-18.
Scorers - Salford: Tries O’Brien, Dobson, Caton-Brown; goals O’Brien 5. Castleford: Tries Webster 2, Dorn; goals Gale 3.
Salford Red Devils: O’Brien; Caton-Brown, J Griffin, Sau, Johnson; Lui, Dobson; Kopczak, Tomkins, G Griffin, Murdoch-Masila, Jones, Flanagan. Subs: J Walne, Kenny, A Walne, Hauraki.
Castleford Tigers: Cas team at Salford: Dorn; Monaghan, Crooks, Webster, Flynn; T Homes, Gale; Tickle, McShane, Patrick, Moors, McMeeken, Massey. Subs: Milner, O Holmes, Millington, Springer.
Referee: James Child.