Castleford Tigers in dreamland as difference-maker Danny Ward underlines credentials and Wakefield Trinity face up to grim reality

Ross Heppenstall
Danny Ward Castleford Tigers Alamy

Danny Ward applauds the Castleford Tigers fans - Alamy

It is said that the mood of the people in Castleford town centre is largely dictated by the results of Castleford Tigers.

In a place where rugby league is a religion and the Mend-A-Hose Jungle the place of worship, that is understandable.

Watching the Tigers win means so much to Castlefordians, who wear their jerseys with such pride.

On the other hand, seeing their side humbled leaves deep scars.

Sadly, defeats have become commonplace in 2023, with shockingly 10 home defeats inflicted on Cas prior to last night’s visit of Hull FC.

That had raised the dismal prospect of relegation from Super League but the inhabitants of this former coal mining stronghold will certainly be walking a little taller in the next few days.

A stirring 29-12 victory over the Black and Whites saw to that.

Whisper it, but Castleford are now within touching distance of safety.

‘It’s not done yet – we’re not safe’

After his second win in four games since taking charge, head coach Danny Ward remained understandably cautious.

“It’s not done yet – we’re not safe,” he said.

“There are four points still to play for and two games to go, so we’ve got to keep banging that message.

“But you’ve got to enjoy nights like this because the Jungle is fantastic when it’s rocking like it was tonight.

“It’s a great feeling to get my first win back here as head coach and the atmosphere was unbelievable.

“I’d liked it to have been a little less stressful, but to enjoy the buzz of a win made it a great night.”

Four points ahead of bottom side Wakefield Trinity with two games remaining, only a fool would bet against the Tigers staying up now.

Mark Applegarth’s team will be nailed-on as relegation certainties when the bookies revise their odds this morning.

Credit to Ward and his Castleford troops, of course.

The Tigers appointed Ward exactly a month ago. At a time of crisis.

As Wakefield were engineering a revival which was beginning to make the relegation scrap a two-horse race.

Danny Ward underlines credentials for long-term Castleford stay

It was a challenge for Ward to temporarily leave his family in leafy Surrey, move back in with mum and dad in Dewsbury and rescue a club who had snubbed him when the job previously became available.

Do not underestimate how bad Cas have been at times this season.

Ward inherited a team that was struggling for confidence and wobbling alarmingly – and the Tigers are hardly thriving off the field with crowds in decline this season.

After Lee Radford left just three games into the season, Andy Last was sacked after failing to garner any kind of consistency from his players.

Ward became the third head coach to take control at Wheldon Road this term.

At 43, the gregarious Yorkshireman was young enough to get back into the elite coaching game but it had been two years since he left London Broncos.

And this was a contract until only the end of the season. Just six games.

Could a man who carved out such a promising reputation for his work at the Broncos prove once again that he deserves to be coaching at the highest level again?

Actually, turns out he could.

Certainly last night’s events in the City of Wakefield will be seen as pivotal in the relegation picture.

With Trinity losing 18-10 at home to Catalans Dragons, the Tigers knew the significance of beating Hull.

And they did so deservedly, outscoring Tony Smith’s men by five tries to two.

This was a victory chiselled largely on defensive aggression and a collective desire.

A willingness to put your body on the line and head in where it hurts.

There will surely have been times this season when certain Castleford players will have pulled up their team-mates in the dressing room after a defeat for not putting in a shift.

Those kind of awkward conversations won’t have happened last night.

Not after Ward’s players showed the kind of resilience which deserves and usually gets its rewards.

“That was a big plus for me – that attitude to just defend,” added Ward.

“We dropped a couple of balls coming off our own line, we defend the set and then make another error.

“We don’t want to be a team who does that but, when you’ve got that attitude to work for each other and turning up, you can go a long was as a team.

“We know that’s not been there consistently and that’s what we’ve got to strive for every week, so it becomes the norm. That’s the challenge for us as a squad.”

Castleford 29-12 Hull: How it happened

With Gareth Widdop a steadying influence on his 300th career appearance at full-back, the Tigers soon led when the former England man threw a long pass to Jason Qareqare.

The Fijian winger showed impressive strength and footwork to dive over in the left corner at a sweltering Wheldon Road.

It was a reminder of the ability which saw him spectacularly announce himself to Super League with a brilliant try after just 45 seconds of his debut as a 17-year-old against Hull FC in June 2021.

After Qareqare’s opener last night, the Black and Whites hit back through Adam Swift.

But Hull made too many errors and one was seized upon in the 24th minute when Qareqare ran from deep inside his own half to score Castleford’s second.

When Greg Eden – playing at stand-off – touched down Blake Austin’s grubber kick to make it 18-6 at the break, it felt like the Tigers were destined to prevail.

Once again, though, it was a defensive steel – absent for so much of this season – which characterised this performance.

Early in the second half, Elliot Wallis made a vital saving tackle to keep out Swift, albeit with some assistance from Widdop.

It was easy to forget Cas had shipped 11 tries in their abject 66-12 surrender at Warrington Wolves six days earlier.

Second-half tries from Alex Foster and Jordan Turner confirmed the win, with Swift’s late second of little consolation to Hull FC.

Cas coach praises ‘sensational’ young Tigers trio

Jason Qareqare Castleford Tigers Alamy Jason Qareqare in action for Castleford Tigers

While seasoned veterans such as Widdop, Liam Watts and Joe Westerman helped lay the platform, Ward was keen to praise Qareqare, Muizz Mustapha and Cain Robb.

“The young fellas were very good,” said Ward.

“Jason came up with a couple of big plays, Muzzy was sensational in the pack and probably our best middle.

“He added loads and it was the same for Cain Robb when he came on. Maybe we should have trusted the young fellas a bit earlier.”

Second-rower Alex Mellor hit 200 career appearances and forward Nathan Massey notched his 300th match in a Tigers jersey.

That added to the celebrations at the end as Sweet Caroline blared out over the public address system, prompting a mass singalong with the home faithful.

As Castleford look to safeguard their Super League status beyond any doubt, attention will soon turn to whether Ward will stay to lead them into next season.

After last night’s win, he could take some shifting.

READ NEXT: Super League ins and outs for 2024: Every confirmed signing and departure