The latest hurdle on Castleford Tigers seemingly unstoppable journey to Challenge Cup victory at Wembley on the 26th August were the Black & Whites of Hull FC. The Tigers were in town on a scorching afternoon in Hull and were slight favourites with the bookies.
The Tigers are currently seven points ahead of Fourth placed Hull in the Super League table and while the Tigers have been consistent for the whole season, Hull have been the league's Jekyll and Hyde, mixing sublime with ridiculous performances.
It was the Cup holders against the best side in the land, it was undoubtedly the tie of the round.
It was the best possible start for the home side when Carlos Tuimavave intercepted a Ben Roberts pass on his own twenty and showed the chasing Tigers a clear pair of heels for an eighty metre try. Jake Connor kicked the extras and within two minutes Hull got their second when Fetuli Talanoa took a pass from Steve Michaels to ground in the left corner. When Connor converted from the touchline it was 12-0.
Greg Eden lost the ball into touch with the line begging on twenty-four to spurn the Tigers first real chance. On twenty-seven the Tigers did open their account when Paul McShane hacked back a Hull FC knock on for Ben Roberts to pick up and step past the Airlie Birds defenders to go in under the sticks. Luke Gale added the goal to reduce the arrears to six points.
Within the blink of an eye the Tigers were level. A reverse angle grubber kick from gale was collected by an unmarked Zak Hardaker to ground just to the right of the upright. Gale kicked the goal to level the scores at 12-12.
Following interference at the play the ball, Connor kicked a thirty metre goal to re-establish the Hull lead and despite the Tigers pressuring the Hull line towards the break the Black and Whites defence held firm.
A high tackle on forty-two gave Connor a thirty metre penalty to double the lead to 16-12.
When Jamie Shaul lost the ball forwards when returning a high kick the Tigers used three tackles for Michael Shenton to confuse the FC defence and put Roberts through a big hole to score under the sticks. Gale added the extras and Castleford were ahead for the first time in the game.
But the lead only lasted for four minutes when after a Tuimavave break, Connor kicked another penalty, this one from twenty five metres, to again level the scores. Another penalty for holding down on fifty-three and again it was Connor given the responsibility to kick the goal but he pushed his effort wide.
More Tigers interference on fifty-nine, this time just ten metres from their line, gave Connor a simple goal for the lead.
On sixty-five Mahe Fonua found space after a Mark Minichiello crabbing run to break the defensive line and ground. Connor slotted the crucial kick between the uprights for 26-18. When Jamie Shaul found himself on a big overlap after an intricate passing move he went in for the crucial try that took FC into the semi-finals. Connor added the goal for 32-18.
On seventy-one a nice reverse pass from Hardaker put Minikin over down the right hand side and Gale added the conversion from wide to narrow the margin back to eight points.
Pushing for the points it was Castleford who showed some uncharacteristic clumsiness with the ball, and as the seconds ebbed away they became increasingly frustrated while FC held on for the win.
FC took the game to Castleford from the off, and as the game wore on, the extra workload told on the visitors. Kicking the penalties turned out to be the perfect policy as it ground down the Tigers and edged Hull to the eventual win and back into the semi-finals. The Tigers can now wave goodbye to the treble and focus their efforts on the Minor Premiership and getting to Old Trafford.
Shaul (T), Michaels, Fonua (T), Tuimavave (T), Talanoa (T), Kelly, Connor (8G), Taylor, Houghton, Watts, Washbrook, Minichiello, Manu. Subs: Bowden, Thompson, Fash, Turgut.
Hardaker (T), Minikin (T), Webster, Shenton, Eden, Roberts (2T), Gale (4G), Lynch, McShane, Massey, Sene-Lafeo, McMeeken, Milner. Subs: Millington, Patrick, Larroyer, Foster.