AFTER MORE than four months on the sidelines nursing a fractured kneecap, Man of Steel Luke Gale made an instant impact in his Castleford Tigers comeback.
The England scrum-half was involved heavily in four of his side’s six tries and kicked six goals from seven attempts during a 36-4 home win over Catalans Dragons which virtually guaranteed Tigers’ place in the semi-finals.
It was a scrappy game, against opponents including 12 members of their Challenge Cup winning side of a week earlier, and Castleford had to work harder than the scoreline suggests, but their defensive effort was outstanding.
Tigers led 18-0 at half-time, having withstood several long spells of pressure on their line.
Their opening try, after 14 minutes, was top class. Gale’s excellent pass sent Peter Mata’utia dashing for the line and he turned the ball back inside to put Michael Shenton over.
Gale also created the second score, just before the half hour, with a fine pass to Greg Eden, but his half-back partner Jake Trueman got in on the act for the third late in the half.
Trueman has done a fine job during Gale’s lay-off and his footwork makes him difficult to deal with close to the line.
He took Paul McShane’s off-load from a standing start, but bamboozled the defence on a lovely run.
Greg Bird, back for Catalans after a four-game ban which kept him out of the Cup triumph, went close twice, being held up over the line and then fumbling before he could get the ball down. On both occasions Tigers counter-attacked to score within moments.
Eden’s second try, on 42 minutes after Gale and Shenton had handled, put the game out of Catalans’ reach, but they did score next through Brayden Wiliame who forced his way over from close range on 51 minutes.
Catalans’ discipline often lets them down and they had two players sin-binned in the second half.
Julian Bousquet was yellow-carded for kicking out and moments after his return Wiliame delayed a tap restart and was banished to the naughty step.
Tigers didn’t take advantage of the first spell against 12 men, but benefited the second time with back-to-back tries in the closing stages.
Eden completed his hat-trick from Shenton’s pass and Castleford scored a spectacular try in the next set. Grant Millington’s huge charge from near his own line began the move and Mike McMeeken was in support. It looked like Gale would finish the move off, but he didn’t have the legs and opted instead to put Oliver Holmes over. Gale booted his fifth conversion and then completed the scoring with a penalty goal.
Ben Roberts, out for a week longer than Gale because of knee and hamstring injuries, made his return off the bench.
Tigers forward Holmes was placed on report by referee Greg Dolan following an incident which led to Samisoni Langi going off for a concussion assessment in the first half.
Castleford Tigers: Mata’utia, Clare, Wardle, Shenton, Eden, Trueman, Gale, Watts, McShane, Millington, Holmes, McMeeken, Massey. Subs Roberts, Moors, Milner, Clark.
Catalans Dragons: Mead, Duport, Langi, Wiliame, Tierney, Albert, Drinkwater, Belmas, Da Costa, Moa, Julien, Garcia, Bird. Subs Casty, Bousquet, Goudemand, Edwards.
Referee: Greg Dolan (Widnes).