The tide is turning for rugby league in Castleford but some things seem destined never to change. Twenty-five years have passed since Cas won a competitive fixture at St Helens and, try as they might, they just cannot get the job done in this part of Merseyside.
Knowsley Road, Anfield, even across the M62 in Widnes for a one-off fixture six years ago – and now eight attempts without succeeding at the new stadium.
This game was tipped as the one where a run of 29 fixtures at St Helens without victory would come to an end. And why not? For the first two months of the season Castleford have been virtually irrepressible; Saints, on the other hand, have been so abject they parted ways with their coach, Keiron Cunningham, last week.
So for the Tigers to fall foul of a side without a win in three games ranks as perhaps the biggest surprise of the Easter weekend. They remain top on points difference but Castleford were noticeably below their best. “Between our ears we weren’t quite where we needed to be in the first half and that was the difference,” said their coach, Daryl Powell.
Yet despite being out of sorts – and the rigours of two games in four days may have had something to do with that – Castleford played their part in a thoroughly entertaining match. Easter Monday games can often be low-quality and occasionally one-sided but this was anything but.
The Tigers actually went ahead when Greg Eden touched down in the corner and, with Luke Gale converting and subsequently adding a penalty, the visitors seemed in control, leading 8-0 against a side perhaps short of confidence.
Yet Saints responded magnificently. By half-time they had forged a 12-point advantage thanks to tries from Matty Fleming, Luke Douglas and Mark Percival, with Percival adding four goals.
Back-to-back tries from Ben Roberts and Eden with his second – which came from a move which epitomised the panache with which Castleford are capable, the ball passing through numerous sets of hands before the winger eventually touched down – set up a captivating final quarter, with Saints ahead by only two.
But the young winger Regan Grace, who had an eye-catching debut at Wigan on Good Friday, took centre stage with his second try in two appearances to give Saints enough breathing space despite Roberts’ late consolation on the hooter.
Leeds moved level on points with Castleford after quelling a fightback from the league’s bottom side, Widnes, to win 42-22. They led 30-6 at half-time but the Vikings, with only one win this season, pulled it back to 30-22 late on. Late tries for Kallum Watkins and Matt Parcell secured victory, however.
Wigan remain in the top four after ending a closely fought contest at Wakefield, with Liam Marshall’s late try securing a 16-10 victory for the champions. Hull are level on points with the Warriors, though, sitting outside the top four on points difference alone after a 24-10 victory at Leigh, their first victory in four games.
The Centurions remain in the bottom four – as do Huddersfield, who missed a last-gasp conversion which would have given them a draw at Warrington. Danny Brough’s error allowed the Wolves – who now have three wins in a row – to move up to ninth after their 26-24 win.
St Helens Makinson; Swift, Fleming, Percival, Grace; Fages, Smith; Amor, Lee, Walmsley, Taia, Wilkin, Thompson. Interchange Douglas, Walker, Peyroux, Knowles.
Tries Fleming, Douglas, Percival, Grace Goals Percival 5.
Castleford Hardaker; Minikin, Webster, Shenton, Eden; Roberts, Gale; Lynch, McShane, Moors, Millington, McMeeken, Massey. Interchange Holmes, Milner, Sene-Lefao, Cook.
Tries Eden 2, Roberts 2 Goals Gale 3.
Referee C Campbell Attendance 12,499