Hull marched through to next weekend’s Challenge Cup quarter finals in a bruising match for a victory which came at a cost, as Jamie Shaul, Albert Kelly and Ratu Naulangu all saw the final hooter from the stands where they nursed injuries.
The Tigers and Airlie Birds faced off in the last sixth-round tie standing after COVID delays and withdrawals by all the non-Super League clubs who had nominally made it this far before the game closed down in the summer.
The winner will now go on to play Wigan Warriors on Saturday.
The Black-and-Whites put in the first bid for that game, when full-back Jamie Shaul broke the Cas line on the 40-metre mark before the ball found its way to Carlos Tuimavave, via Albert Kelly, for the man who’d just signed a new four-year contract to score under the sticks. Jake Connor converted for a 6-0 lead.
That led to a spell of Hull pressure on the Castleford line, but after 15 minutes, it was the Tigers who were camped in the Hull 10m with a number of set-restarts.
They charged at, and tested, the FC defensive line until George Griffin barged through to ground the ball. Danny Richardson’s goal levelled the scores at 6-6.
After 25 minutes, Sosaia Feki went off with knee injury in his delayed debut after the closed-season move from Cronulla. Callum Turner came on to take the full-back spot as James Clare moved to the left wing and Hull pressure told on the rearranged Tigers’ back three.
Again the pressure told on the right: this time Tuimavave broke the line, passed to Shaul who moved the ball to Kelly. His try was converted by Connor and the Black and Whites were leading 12-6 10 minutes from half time.
Five minutes later it looked as if Clare had brought Cas in reach again, but knocked on putting the ball down in the corner.
It was Tuimavave who troubled the scoreboard next, intercepting a Mata’utia pass, and racing through to touch down on the strike of the hooter. Connor’s conversion – just minutes after he missed a drop-goal attempt – meant the score now stood at 18-6 after what had been a tight 39 and a half minutes of rugby.
And then Hull opened the second half in exactly the way they finished the first. Ratu Naulago caught a Castleford kick with one foot in the in-goal area, took the 20m tap and raced away to score under the sticks, with Connor’s fourth conversion kick, the score had opened out to 24-6.
The Tigers responded in the best way, though. Scarcely a minute later, Longstanding Castleford pack-member Oliver Holmes powered over to close the gap to 24-10. Almost inevitably, Richardson’s goal kick narrowed it further to 24-12.
The game drifted from the sublime to the ridiculous as the teams – who both played in the league on Thursday – exchanged knock-on after knock-on for 10 minutes in the Castleford half, without any score, or even a completed set.
Then Richardson kicked a 40-20, after a great dummy-half run rom Paul McShane. Two plays later, the ball moved from left to right to land in Mata’utia’s hand with a gaping defensive line gap in front of him. The Tigers had clawed their way back into the game at 16-24. But Richardson’s first missed conversion left the score there, with Hull still two scores ahead.
They added another two points on the 62nd minute, when opting to kick a penalty awarded for a high tackle by McShane. They now led by 26-16, but still less than two converted tries ahead.
And it stayed that way until the 75th minute when Hull got a penalty on the half way line for a high tackle on Gaz Ellis and Connor just stroked it through, giving Cas the challenge of scoring three times if they wanted to play in the quarter-finals.
But even that faint hope was extinguished when Connor kicked a drop goal with less than two minutes remaining.
Castleford: Clare, Feki, Shenton, Blair, Olpherts, Mata’utia (T), Richardson (2G), Watts, McShane, Griffin (T), Holmes (T), McMeeken, O’Neill. Subs: Millington, Milner, Hepi, Turner.
Hull: Shaul, Naulago (T), Tuimavave (2T), Griffin , Faraimo, Kelly (T), Connor (4G, DG, 2P), Ellis, Johnstone, Fash, Lane, Ma’u, Cator. Houghton, Satae, Sao, Fonua.
Referee: Liam Moore.
Venue: Totally Wicked Stadium, St Helens