Hull FC dig deep to see off Castleford despite early dismissal of Liam Watts

Aaron Bower at the KCom Stadium
The Guardian
<span class="element-image__caption">Castleford’s Luke Gale, pictured, was forced off with concussion after the high tackle that led to the sending off of Hull FC’s Liam Watts.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA</span>
Castleford’s Luke Gale, pictured, was forced off with concussion after the high tackle that led to the sending off of Hull FC’s Liam Watts. Photograph: Martin Rickett/PA

Daryl Powell had made it abundantly clear while his Castleford side were sweeping aside all before them in the embryonic weeks of this season that his side would falter at some stage. It seems he was not wrong. In truth, this was a result which said as much about Hull FC as it did the Super League leaders. Hull were magnificent in forging an early 18-0 lead in as many minutes, but the sending off of the prop Liam Watts after just 20 minutes looked to be the catalyst for Castleford to overturn that deficit.

Big games are often determined by big moments, and while Watts’ dismissal for a high tackle on the Castleford scrum-half, Luke Gale, could have been the difference, it was perhaps more the fact that Gale was subsequently ruled out for the remainder of the game with concussion that was the decisive act. Without Gale, Castleford lacked the crispness their attacking play has so often had this season – while they also missed his pinpoint goal-kicking. And without Watts, Hull produced a heroic defensive performance to move to within a point of an increasingly congested Super League summit.

“I’m really pleased,” said the Hull coach, Lee Radford. “Up until the red card we were well on top and then when we went down to 12, the willingness to scramble and never give up for each other was unbelievable.” While Castleford’s superb start to the season has attracted most of the headlines thus far, this mini-blip ultimately now means that four sides are now split by just a solitary point at the top: and Hull are right in and among that leading pack. With courageous efforts like these, it is not hard to see why.

That Castleford remain top despite back-to-back defeats underlines the fact that there is no need for caution among the Tigers ranks just yet. However, there was a troubling element of panic to Castleford’s play here – and with the amount of possession they wasted against a Hull side a man light for almost an hour, it was easy to predict how Powell’s post-match assessment would play out.

“It was our worst performance of the season by far,” Powell said. “There’s a frantic nature to us at the minute, which is a bit unlike ourselves. We just panicked all the way through and to lose Gale, the clarity and smartness he gives you, was big.”

Hull were thoroughly deserving of the early lead they forged courtesy of tries from Scott Taylor and a brace from the winger Mahe Fonua, and at 18-0 in front, FC were in complete control of the contest. However, the dismissal of Watts turned the momentum of the game on its head and, within seconds, Castleford had scored their first try via Greg Minikin. “I think the official did his utmost to put some controversy on the game when it didn’t need it,” Radford said of Watts’ sending off.

Further tries for Ben Roberts and Michael Shenton reduced the gap to six at the break – and at that point, it seemed like Castleford would inevitably roll Hull over, but they refused to give in. A penalty from Marc Sneyd nudged the lead to eight shortly after the break before Roberts’ second, following a lengthy spell of Castleford pressure, narrowed the gap to four.

The final half hour followed a largely familiar pattern: Castleford would press for further points but Hull defended magnificently, with a number of last-ditch scrambles keeping the Tigers at bay. Castleford would eventually score again, but only on the full-time hooter when their race had been run. By the time Mike McMeeken scored that try, Carlos Tuimavave’s try for Hull had long since secured victory against the odds.

Hull Shaul; Fonua, Tuimavave, Connor, Michaels; Kelly, Sneyd; Taylor, Washbrook, Watts, Manu, Minichiello, Ellis. Interchange Green, Thompson, Turgut, Fash. Sent off Watts (22).

Tries Taylor, Fonua 2, Tuimavave. Goals Sneyd 5.

Castleford Hardaker; Minikin, Webster, Shenton, Eden; Roberts, Gale; Lynch, McShane, Springer, Holmes, McMeeken, Milner. Interchange Millington, Sene-Lefao, Moors, Monaghan.

Tries Minikin, Roberts 2, McMeeken, Shenton. Goals McShane 2.

Referee R Hicks. Attendance 12,801.

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