Castleford maintained their late-season resurgence with a 29-18 win over Salford at the Magic Weekend to keep alive their Super League play-off hopes.
Makeshift half-backs Jordan Turner and Peter Mata’utia both scored tries as the Tigers held off a spirited Red Devils to secure a fifth win from six matches to strengthen their place in the top six with two rounds left of the regular season.
It was Castleford’s ninth win out of 13 Magic Weekend fixtures and helped get the two-day event off to an entertaining start on its return to St James’ Park.
Castleford coach Daryl Powell, still aiming to bow out on a high as he prepares to make the move to Warrington at the end of the season, was forced to manufacture a new half-back pairing after losing all three first-choice half-backs to injury.
The Tigers also had to play half the match without their talismanic hooker Paul McShane, who scored one try and set up another in the first quarter before succumbing to an abdominal injury.
Salford, too, had their injury woes, with second rower Harvey Livett limping out of the warm-up, but veteran playmaker Kevin Brown, who played in the first Magic Weekend in 2007, was fit enough to lead the side out, a month away from his 37th birthday.
McShane showed delicate footwork to score the game’s opening try directly from acting half-back after eight minutes and his short pass got prop Daniel Smith charging over for a second after 17 minutes.
The Tigers were unable to hang on to their lead, however, as the Red Devils struck back in an evenly-contested first half.
Right winger Ken Sio went over for his 15th try of the season, taking him top of the Super League scoring charts, after clever build-up play from Dan Sarginson and Tui Lolohea, who also combined with second rower Oliver Roberts to get left winger Joe Burgess over for another try.
Krisnan Inu added the conversion each time to bring his side level and Sio went close to putting them in front before Castleford struck just before the break when second rower Oliver Holmes forced his way over for their third try after they opted to run the ball on the last tackle.
Mata’utia succeeded with two of his three conversion attempts as the Tigers led 16-12 at half-time.
Unsurprisingly, McShane failed to re-appear for the second half but Castleford had a handy replacement in Adam Milner and he provided the telling pass for Turner to force his way over for their fourth try, to which Mata’utia added his third goal.
Salford had useful impact from the bench in Sam Luckley, a Geordie who spent five seasons with Newcastle Thunder before making the move to Super League, and his offloads helped get his side back into the game.
A ball steal by Chris Atkin on winger Derrell Olpherts got the Red Devils in a superb attacking position and they piled on the pressure until scrum-half Ata Hingano dummied his way over for their third try after 57 minutes.
Inu’s third goal cut the gap to four points and a 40-20 kick from Lolohea set up a glorious chance for Richard Marshall’s men to snatch victory.
But Castleford’s defence held firm and Mata’utia made the game safe eight minutes from the end when he used his deceptive strength on an arcing run to reach over for the clinching try.
Mata’utia kicked his fourth conversion and Turner added the finishing touches to a hard-won victory with a last-minute drop goal.