For Castleford these were the moments when they and the rest of Super League would learn how far Daryl Powell’s side can go this season. The defeat by Salford last week was a setback few would have predicted but here the task was simple: respond with victory and the Tigers would return to the top.
There were moments of trepidation but the suspicion that Castleford would produce a response in the west Yorkshire sunshine proved to be correct: even if there was a sneaky feeling that their all-round game is not quite at its peak.
Trailing 14‑0 after 11 minutes, the stunned silence around the ground was palpable. Any fears Castleford would fall to a second successive defeat were put to bed thereafter, however. “At 14‑0 we needed a response to the response,” Powell said jokingly.
The dry conditions were perfect for Castleford’s free-flowing style and set the backdrop for another attacking masterclass from a side who continue to redefine the standards of Super League as the season rolls on.
“Overall I think there are some outstanding things in our game,” Powell said. “The start to both halves was poor, though, and we were a bit leaky there. But I went to watch our under-19s side and they’re top, too – it’s a sign we’re really going forward.”
As much as that indicates how much Castleford are progressing on the field, a crowd of more than 8,000 when the corresponding fixture last season drew only 5,526 illustrates how they are moving forward off it as well.
For Catalans a bright opening quickly turned sour – and this was another match that Laurent Frayssinous will look back on with frustration. This 80-minute performance was perhaps their season to date: moments of promise before falling apart.
They remain in a cluster of five teams in mid-table separated by only a point but as the ladder begins to take shape, the fact they are ninth suggests a top-four challenge may be beyond them in 2017.
That they began so brightly will have compounded his misery. Castleford could barely lay a hand on the ball and before they could properly get into any sort of encouraging position, the Tigers found themselves 14 points behind.
Iain Thornley crossed for the opening try in only the third minute after handling in the class of what would follow from Castleford, before wonderful play from Paul Aiton allowed Richie Myler to dart under the posts. Luke Walsh converted both and he would add a penalty three minutes later – suddenly, the pre-match need for Castleford to issue a response was facing a stern test.
In a blistering 25-minute passage of play they ran in 22 unanswered points as their interchange bench began to change the momentum of the game. Inspired by the outstanding Junior Moors, who typified their performance, Zak Hardaker reduced the deficit before Moors provided a fine offload for Grant Millington to cross.
Joel Monaghan and Greg Eden followed suit in the final minutes as Castleford began to tear away and although Catalans offered a brief response shortly after half-time through Louis Anderson, the Tigers were always in control.
Moors capped a marvellous solo performance with Castleford’s fifth try before Michael Shenton finished another scintillating move either side of a Gale penalty. The scrum-half would add a drop goal to extend Castleford’s lead to 17 before Eden moved clear as Super League’s top try-scorer with his 10th of the season.
Catalans had the final say when Vincent Duport crossed but their race had long since been run. There will be greater tests for the league leaders but in the week in which their coach and players had spoken of providing a response to the defeat by Salford, this was very much job done.
Castleford Hardaker; Monaghan, Webster, Shenton, Eden; Roberts, Gale; Lynch, McShane, Massey, Millington, McMeeken, Milner. Interchange Moors, Cook, Sene-Lefao, Chase.
Tries Hardaker, Millington, Monaghan, Eden 2, Moors, Shenton. Goals Gale 7. Drop goal Gale.
Catalans Williame; Yaha, Inu, Duport, Thornley; Walsh, Myler; Moa, Aiton, Casty, Bousquet, Garcia, Burgess. Interchange Anderson, Baitieri, Da Costa, Margalet.
Tries Thornley, Myler, Anderson, Duport. Goals Walsh 5.
Referee J Smith. Attendance 8,126.