Castleford Tigers marched into the last eight of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup after they beat Salford Red Devils 32-18 in a game that had a bit of everything with exciting play, injuries and controversies.
The victory was achieved despite Cas being without seven key first teamers with Luke Gale joining the injury list, but they found an able deputy in Paul McShane, who was awarded the man of the match for an all-action display that summed up just how much the Tigers wanted this cup win.
Despite more team changes, including another one made just before kick-off when Luke Dorn, originally selected on the bench, had to be replaced by debutant Danny Tickle, Cas put up a terrific effort in the first half.
An early grubber kick from makeshift scrum-half McShane rolled out of play as Salford were given a let off.
The visitors then put together their first attack and Junior Sa’u took advantage of a quick play-the ball to scoot over from 30 metres out. Gareth O’Brien added the conversion to make it 6-0.
Cas got a drop-out from the restart as Michael Dobson carried the kick out on the full, but could not take advantage as the pressure came to nothing.
Adam Milner was held up over the line on the next attack, but a minute later Mike McMeeken registered the Tigers’ first points as he collected a loose ball after Ryan Hampshire’s kick had come off a Salford player and McShane’s conversion levelled it up.
Cas lost Lee Jewitt to a concussion substitution and Ben Crooks had to have his head bandaged, but they remained the better side with great breaks from Joel Monaghan and Jake Webster unlucky not to come to anything.
It was Salford who scored next, however, when Sa’u dived onto a well judged grubbed kick by Robert Lui and O’Brien goaled.
But back came Cas as Milner was unlucky to be brought back for a non-existent knock-on when racing clear.
It did not matter as within a minute Denny Solomona got to a McShane kick and found Webster who charged over.
McShane added another goal and two minutes later was on target again with a conversion after Crooks’ lovely short pass sent Monaghan away and he stood up in a tackle to send McMeeken over for his second try. McShane’s goal made it 18-12 at half-time.
The Tigers continued the second half where they left off as they scored within two minutes of the restart,
McShane showed some neat football dribbling skills after the ball went loose and sent Solomona over in the corner. The try was given by the video referee although replays showed that the winger may have lost the ball over the line.
Solomona thought he had scored again five minutes later when collected the loose ball after Daniel Vidot lost it in the air, but the video referee this time denied him as he made contact with the Salford player in the air.
Two more penalties after this one marched Salford up field and they took advantage as Lui charged over for a solo effort.
O’Brien’s goal narrowed the gap to four points, but it was the hosts celebrating again soon after when McShane dived over from acting half on the sixth tackle and added the conversion to make it 28-18.
Salford were not done and it needed some good defence from the Tigers to keep them out with Phil Joseph and George Griffin both held up over the line.
Cas were struck by yet another injury blow with Nathan Massey going off with what looked a knee injury, but they did not let if affect their determination as they took control of the game again.
Solomona was denied by the video referee once more after an unlikely kick by McMeeken was knocked back by Monaghan to the winger, but the decision was that the ball had gone forward - a marginal call that could have gone either way.
McShane was tackled just short of the line as the Tigers maintained the pressure and Milner became yet another to be denied a try by the ref in the stands as he was deemed to be just short of the line as he aimed to ground the ball.
The Tigers were finally rewarded again five minutes from time when Solomona raced almost the full length of the field after intercepting Michael Dobson’s pass. This time there was no call to the video ref and although McShane could not add the conversion Castleford were home and dry for a great cup victory.
Scorers - Castleford: Tries McMeeken 2, Webster, Solomona 2, McShane; goals McShane 4. Salford: Tries Sa’u 2, Lui; goals O’Brien 3.
Castleford Tigers: Hampshire; Monaghan, Crooks, Webster, Solomona; Millington, McShane; Patrick, Milner, Jewitt, Moors, McMeeken, Massey. Subs: Cook, Springer, Hitchcox, Tickle.
Salford Red Devils: O’Brien; Carney, Sa’u, Jones, Vidot; Lui, Dobson; Kopczak, Joseph, G Griffin, Murdoch-Masila, Hauraki, Flanagan. Subs: J Walne, A Walne, Krasniqi, Evalds.
Referee: James Child.