An all Super League tie between Hull Kingston Rovers and the Castleford Tigers was the opening fixture of the third round of the Betfred Challenge Cup as the road to Wembley started for the sides from the top-flight.
It was the first competitive game at Craven Park for 390 days, still without supporters in the ground, as clubs returned to their home grounds for the cup competitions after playing last season’s regular weekly rounds at shared venues.
The Tigers were the big favourites for the game, the Robins being given a fourteen point start on the coupon and before kick-off you could get 10/1 on Castleford winning the competition while Hull KR were a more generous 40/1 to lift the Challenge Cup at Wembley on the 17th July, nothing could have prepared us for what we were about to witness.
Good early pressure from the home side tested the Tigers defence as Daryl Powell’s side struggled to retain possession and on seven minutes Ethan Ryan made the pressure tell when he found space on the overlap wide right to take a Scott Quinlan pass and stroll in to score. Jordan Abdull hit the right-hand post with his conversion attempt from wide.
Jake Trueman responded for the Tigers on twenty-one as he skipped his way through the KR defensive line to score near to the sticks, Danny Richardson added the conversion for a 6-4 lead.
Jez Litten broke the Castleford line, drew Gareth O’Brien and found Adam Quinlan in support to scamper in to regain the lead for the Robins. Abdul was accurate with the boot as the game approached the half hour mark.
Within two minutes KR were in again when substitute Albert Vete crashed the line, carrying three defenders with him, after Liam Watts conceded a penalty. Mikey Lewis added the conversion for KR who now had a ten-point lead.
It had been a sensational six-minute spell for the home side as Matt Parcell went down the middle and stretched for the line. Lewis added the conversion for a 22-6 lead, the Tigers defence looking in tatters. It had been a superb half for Hull KR and despite the one try for Trueman it had been one-way traffic.
Jordan Turner was held up just short of the line on the first Tigers attack after the restart. Derrell Olpherts finally made the most of extensive Tigers pressure as the KR defence cracked wide right. Richardson knocked over a difficult conversion to reduce the arrears to ten points on forty-seven minutes.
Within four minutes Paul McShane benefitted from a stroke of luck as a loose ball ricocheted off Quinlan into his hands and he turned on the accelerator to go over under the sticks. Richardson added the conversion for 22-18, it looked like a different Tigers team in the second half.
Peter Mata-utia couldn’t stop Shaun Kenny-Dowall as he pushed over the line and showed great strength to cross off an Abdull pass. Abdull added the conversion to regain the ten-point cushion for KR with twenty left.
A Robins double-whammy, two minutes after the SKD try, saw Jordan Abdull over off a pass from the centre to really take the game by the scruff of its neck. Abdull couldn’t convert his own try but the Tigers had a massive amount of work to do.
With nine minutes remaining Olpherts got his second of the night as he took a Mata’utia offload to go in at the corner. Richardson was unable to add the conversion and it was still a long way back for the Tigers as the clock was running out.
On seventy-seven McShane reduced the margin to a converted try as the hooker dummied to Jordan Turner as he stepped and went in for the four pointer. Richardson added the conversion to reduce the arrears to just four points.
McShane was held up over the KR line with two minutes remaining and as the hooter sounded Jordan Turner took advantage of a McShane break through the line to take the ball and scamper in to level the scores at 32-32 with the kick to come. Richardson missed the conversion and the game sensationally went into golden point extra time.
The Tigers elected to receive the kick-off with both sides looking totally drained. O’Brien skewed a drop goal attempt wide of the sticks three minutes into the first period of extra time and with seconds left Richardson tried a long-range effort which fell short.
In the second period a Trueman break took the Tigers to the KR thirty and two plays later Richardson attempted what looked like a simple drop goal, but the ball went wide. KR used the ball well to work downfield and Abdull took a kick at goal, also going wide of the target with two minutes left.
The second period of extra time ended with no addition to the scores and the game went into a third. Richardson was first up and again missed a drop goal attempt. A thirty metre O’Brien effort also missed wide for the Tigers. In the tit-for-tat next up was a terrible attempt from Lewis which hardly got off the ground. Trueman had another crack at the target but also failed as the fourth period of Golden point beckoned.
Castleford got twenty metres from the line, but Richardson hit a defender with his kick, the ball going back into Tigers hands for another set. The Tigers drove to the line and forced a KR dropout. On the next set Gareth O’Brien kicked a drop goal eighteen minutes into extra time to win the game.
Two sensational fightbacks, from what appeared to be hopeless positions, saw a determined Castleford Tigers get level as the full-time hooter sounded. What followed was eighteen minutes of pure excitement in extra time as it took four periods before O’Brien managed to land the crucial drop goal and progress his side into the next round. Hull KR and their coach Tony Smith must be dumbfounded as to how they let that one slip.
Hull KR: Quinlan (T), Hall, Kenny-Dowell (T), Minikin, Ryan (T), Lewis (2G), Abdull (T, 2G), King, Parcell (T), Sims, Linnett, Johnson, Lawler. Subs: Vete (T), Litten, Mustapha, Keinhorst.
Castleford Tigers: O’Brien, Turner (T), Shenton, Mata’utia, Olpherts (2T), Trueman (T), Richardson (4G), Millington, McShane (2T), Griffin, Holmes, Blair, Massey. Subs: Watts, Milner, Sene-Lefeo, Smith.
Full-Time: 32-32. 32-33 after Golden Point.
Referee: Rob Hicks.
Score Progression: 4-0, 4-4, 4-6, 8-6, 10-6, 14-6, 16-6, 20-6, 22-6 : HT : 22-10, 22-12, 22-16, 22-18, 26-18, 28-18, 32-18, 32-22, 32-26, 32-28, 32-32 : FT : 32-33 : Golden Point.