It was a game of extreme oddity at The Jungle this afternoon. The game was closer than expected, the atmosphere was unusually subdued and at half-time the referee was substituted due to an injury to his foot.
Prior to the match most spectators would have assumed that this tie was a total mismatch with Castleford – sitting in the play-offs and looking for momentum – facing the weakened Celtic Crusaders side.
But in John Dixon’s final game as Head Coach before returning to Australia, he saw his team not only put in a spirited performance, but nearly shock the home side as the Tigers poor home record continued to plague them.
It was the Tigers who started the brightest, taking advantage of the open space on the wings that was available to them.
Joe Westerman thought he had scored early on, but as he crashed over the line he was adjudged to have dropped the ball.
And instead of folding from the pressure, the Crusaders mounted their own attack and Lloyd White took advantage of some poor defending to completely against the script.
But two tries from Lincoln Withers – who put in a performance of exceptional high quality – swung the pendulum back in the Welsh side’s favour.
Castleford hit back with another try through Michael Wainwright, but Westerman’s missed conversion ensured the Crusaders still carried a narrow lead.
But the Tigers were reduced to 12-men after Michael Shenton was sin-binned for holding down as referee James Child grew tired of the Tigers’ indiscipline.
As the hooter sounded for the second-half however, there was one notable change. Child had been replaced by the replacement referee, Peter Brooke, much to the delight of all fans who gave the loudest cheer of the day.
But there was to be no dream ending for Dixon as his side grew tired and the Tigers rallied to add four further tries to their total.
Brent Sherwin tagged on a drop-goal to ensure a cushion and the game was wrapped up by Craig Huby who just managed to cling onto the ball and ground under the posts as the Tigers grabbed the two points despite being far from their best.