Late drop-goal ends Castleford’s unbeaten start

Luke Gale, who scored a try and kicked two goals against Salford.
Luke Gale, who scored a try and kicked two goals against Salford.

Despite only being behind for four minutes Castleford Tigers suffered their first defeat of the season as they lost to a late drop-goal by Gareth O’Brien at Salford.

In a closely fought game Daryl Powell’s men led 6-4 at half-time and stretched the lead to eight points after the break only for their hosts to claw their way back to level then win with the field goal by former Cas loanee O’Brien.

Castleford had Jake Webster back at centre and Ben Roberts started at half-back and they began in the style of their first four games in the Betfred Super League with a try after just five minutes.

Salford winger Greg Johnson failed to deal with Luke Gale’s high kick and the red hot scrum-half followed up to just reach the ball before it went over the back line to touch down for the opening try to which he added the extras.

Salford proved more resilient in defence than other sides had proved against the Tigers this season, however, and there were no more tries for the 2,000 strong away following to cheer in the rest of the half.

Cas were forced to do some serious defending and coped well until just after the half-hour as Robert Lui sent back rower Ben Murdoch-Masila racing through a gap to score a try that went unconverted.

A big moment in the game came right on the stroke of half-time when the Tigers thought they had stretched their lead. Michael Shenton appeared to have sent Greg Eden over on the left wing, but celebrations were cut short when referee Phil Bentham ruled a forward pass. It was a big call and came back to haunt the visitors.

Cas did not let their disappointment show at the start of the second half as they did go eight points clear with Greg Minikin doing well to force his way over for his ninth try of the season.

Gale added a superb touchline conversion, but it was not all good news as Minikin was injured in the act of scoring and had to go off with Jake Webster going to the wing and Roberts to centre.

Salford hit back strongly, although the Tigers continued to defend well under pressure until a big error from Hardaker paved the way for Salford’s second try.

The full-back failed to deal with a high kick and in the next set Murdoch-Masila juggled with the ball before powerfully racing over for a try converted by O’Brien.

Castleford were forced into another reshuffle after also losing Webster to injury, with Roberts switched to full-back and Hardaker moving onto the wing.

That did not help their fluency and they found themselves level after O’Brien kicked a penalty.

Cas came close when Eden was unable to collect a Gale kick near the line, but it was Salford who looked the more likely to score in the closing stages.

After missing one long range drop-goal attempt O’Brien made no mistake with another one-pointer four minutes from time after the Red Devils had been gifted possession by an Eden fumble deep inside his own half.

Cas tried in vain to hit back and their own drop-goal chance went with the final play after a poor pass denied Gale the opportunity.

Scorers - Salford: Tries Murdoch-Masila 2; goals O’Brien 2; drop-goal O’Brien. Castleford: Tries Gale, Minikin; goals Gale 2.

Salford Red Devils: O’Brien, Johnson, Welham, Sa’u, J Carney, Lui, Dobson, Walne, Tomkins, Mossop, Griffin, Murdoch-Masila, Flanagan. Subs: Brining, Krasniqi, Kopczak, T Carney.

Castleford Tigers: Hardaker, Minikin, Webster, Shenton, Eden, Roberts, Gale, Lynch, McShane, Massey, McMeeken, Sene-Lefao, Milner. Subs: Millington, Moors, Cook, Springer.

Referee: Phil Bentham.

Half-time: 4-6.

Attendance: 5,121.