Castleford Tigers' drop-goal hero Gareth O'Brien fit and firing for Challenge Cup final

IT WOULD almost feel wrong - if not utterly unfair - if Gareth O’Brien wasn’t in contention to feature for Castleford Tigers at Wembley this weekend.

Thursday, 15th July 2021, 5:00 pm

Twice en route to the Challenge Cup final, the former Warrington Wolves player has kicked the decisive drop-goal in golden point extra time to help the Tigers advance.

First, there was the memorable win over Hull KR as Paul McShane’s brilliance sent Jordan Turner over in the corner on the last play to take the game to golden point.

After four gruelling periods of extra time, O’Brien slotted over the one point to set up a quarter final with Salford.

The Red Devils produced a late fightback to send the game to extra time but more magic from McShane to charge the ball down saw O’Brien presented with an early opportunity to win the game - which he took.

Castleford then produced one of their best performances of the season to see off Warrington in the semi-final.

O’Brien’s Wembley hopes were left in the balance when last month he was forced off with a knee injury in the derby win over Wakefield Trinity.

That injury is not as serious as first feared and O’Brien said: “I am feeling good. I have had a bit of a frustrating start to the year.

Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com - 08/05/2021 - Rugby League - Betfred Challenge Cup Quarter-Final - Castleford Tigers v Salford Red Devils - Emerald Headingley Stadium, Leeds, England - Castleford's Gareth O'Brien celebrates kicking the winning point.
Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com - 08/05/2021 - Rugby League - Betfred Challenge Cup Quarter-Final - Castleford Tigers v Salford Red Devils - Emerald Headingley Stadium, Leeds, England - Castleford's Gareth O'Brien celebrates kicking the winning point.

“I haven’t been able to put a run of games together as I am in and out with a few niggles.

“I have had a very good rest and I will be ready for this week.

“When I hyperextended it, I obviously knew my knee was not meant to bend that way. It looked worse on the video and it was painful when I did it.

“Thankfully, all my ligaments were fine. I have done a little bit of work on it over the last for weeks and I will be 100 per cent.”

Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com - 08/05/2021 - Rugby League - Betfred Challenge Cup Quarter Final - Castleford Tigers v Salford Red Devils - Emerald Headingley Stadium, Leeds, England - Castleford's Gareth O'Brien is congratulated after kicking the game-winning drop goal in the Golden Point period.

Of his drop-goal heroics, he added: “We have not done it the easy way, we can make things hard for ourselves. I am just the one sticking the winning goal over. It is a massive team effort over the 80 minutes and then in extra time.

“We have all played our part, it is not just me. Hopefully we can take advantage of this massive opportunity.”

Only St Helens stand in the way of Castleford and winning their first Challenge Cup for 35 years.

O’Brien is used to big stakes in big games, however.

He famously kicked a drop-goal in golden-point extra time to help Salford win a dramatic Million Pound Game against Hull KR in 2016.

“There are big stakes in both games, obviously very different stakes. One is a relegation battle which you never want to be a part of but this is more of an enjoyable one,” he added. “The prize at the end of it is huge. I have been part of the squad for a Challenge Cup final with Warrington, so I know what the day is all about.

“I remember how good that was just being part of the squad. I hope I can run out on the field and take part and hopefully get a result.

“The boys are preparing well and we are all looking forward to it.”