There was no Wembley hangover at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle as Castleford Tigers climbed to second place in the First Utility Super League with a 32-18 victory over Bradford Bulls.
Daryl Powell’s men made hard work of it in the end after leading by 18 points at half-time, but were worthy winners after getting their attacking play back into gear after defeats in their last two games.
An inspirational solo try from Daryl Clark midway through the second half proved the match winner after relegated Bradford made a real fight of it and the Tigers saw out the closing stages well enough for two vital points. Two more wins in their last two games and they cannot now finish lower than second.
Castleford were well in control at half-time after a bright attacking display brought them four tries.
Andy Lynch got the scoreboard moving on five minutes when he proved unstoppable from close range, taking several would-be tacklers over with him.
James Clare added a second try with a spectacular dive over the line following a clever switch back move and some sharp handling and with Marc Sneyd converting from the touchline for his second goal it was 12-0.
Bradford threatened to hit back when Adam Henry made a great break from his own half, but his pass inside to the supporting Luke Gale saw the ball go to ground to give Cas a let off.
The Bulls then had a try ruled out for obstruction before Cas went back on the attack and looked set to score only for Luke Dorn to be taken down by a dangerous looking high tackle. From the resulting penalty and set of six Daryl Clark was held up over the line and Liam Finn chased up Sneyd’s grubber kick only to knock-on over the line.
Bradford’s relief was only temporary as Shenton’s superb turn and offload in a tackle sent Dorn racing in for a try goaled by Sneyd.
The Bulls did finally get on the scoreboard as Lee Gaskell danced his way over for a try goaled by soon to be a Cas player Gale.
But the Tigers had the final word in the half when Sneyd ran the ball on a sixth tackle and Shenton spotted a gap to race through for another try converted by Sneyd to make it 24-6 at the break.
Bradford showed their intentions to make a big fight of it from the first minute of the second half as they forced an error by the hosts then Gaskell sliced his way through the Cas defence for a try goaled by Gale.
Tigers looked unlucky to have a try chalked off after Finn’s high kick was palmed back by Kirk Dixon and Jamie Ellis raced in only to see his effort ruled out for a forward pass.
The pressure was maintained as Finn’s kick forced a drop-out and they then had another effort controversially ruled out when Sneyd chased his own kick and got there first, but turned round to see referee George Stokes signalling a penalty for an offence by the home side off the ball.
Within seconds the relieved Bulls turned defence into attack and Gaskell raced through a gap and easily rounded full-back Dorn to complete his hat-trick.
With Gale goaling there was suddenly only six points between the teams and a real battle was now on.
Bradford came close to squaring the game up when Jamal Fakir knocked on with the line begging after Gale’s kick had been blocked.
But that proved to be their last chance as two minutes later Clark came up with his stunning solo try to give the tigers breathing space again.
After being awarded a penalty deep in their own half, livewire Clark caught the Bulls napping as he took a quick tap and promptly raced more than 80 metres on a thrilling race to the line for a try that showed just how much he will be missed by Cas next year. It was a moment of brilliance fit to win any match and that was precisely what this did.
Sneyd added his fifth conversion and two minutes from time put the seal on the crucial victory when kicking a penalty awarded for offside.
Scorers - Castleford: Tries Lynch, Clare, Dorn, Shenton, Clark; goals Sneyd 6. Bradford: Tries Gaskell 3; goals Gale 3.
Castleford: Dorn; Dixon. Shenton, Webster, Clare; Sneyd, Finn; Jewitt, Clark, Lynch, Holmes, Hauraki, Massey. Subs: Mariano, Wheeldon, Ellis, Channing.
Bradford: Kearney; George, Henry, Arundel, Williams, Gaskell;,Gale; Manuokafoa; O’Brien, Sidlow, Ferguson, Pitts, Donaldson. Subs: Olbison, Blythe, Fakir, Addy.
Referee: George Stokes.