Ashton hat-trick helps Warrington end Castleford’s Super League play-off bid
In the end, the scriptwriters must have been having a night off. It simply wasn’t supposed to end like this for Daryl Powell and Castleford Tigers. Take the sight of the club’s legendary long-serving captain, Michael Shenton, leaving the field for the final time as a Castleford player with his shoulder in a sling. Or the raw emotion spilling through Jesse Sene-Lefao, Peter Mata’utia and Oliver Holmes, whose time at the club came to an end in ultimately disappointing fashion here.
And that is before you come to Powell himself. There were enough subplots here to comprise a soap opera, chief among them the fact that Powell was attempting to beat the club he will coach next season to guide his home town club into the play-offs. However, that wasn’t to be and the harsh reality is that they had nobody to blame but themselves after arguably the worst first-half performance of his entire eight-year spell in charge.
“That was a half I want to forget for the rest of my life,” Powell said after watching what proved to be his final match in charge of Castleford. When Matty Ashton crossed for his hat-trick shortly after half-time, it put the Wolves 32-0 ahead and ensured that there would be no grandstand finale to the regular season tomorrow evening.
Had Castleford won, Leeds and Hull KR would have competed for the final play-off place at Headingley, but they will now both take to the field knowing they are assured of a place in the top six. Ashton’s hat-trick, coupled with two tries from Jake Mamo -– who will move in the opposite direction to Powell and join the Tigers in 2022 – ensured that third-placed Warrington maintained their fine form before the play-offs.
“We took the emotion out of it nice and early,” their coach, Steve Price, said. Though Price would not have accounted for a frenetic and chaotic 10-minute period either side of the hour mark which sparked hopes of the greatest comeback in Super League history. Two tries from Mata’utia, coupled with further scores from Jordan Turner and Grant Millington, reduced the deficit to eight points in the blink of an eye.
Throw in Mike Cooper’s red card for a shoulder charge and Warrington had to negotiate the final quarter a man light. “I asked the players to show some commitment and courage at half-time,” Powell said. He certainly got that, though ultimately their shortcomings before that passage of play came back to haunt them.
Powell has achieved plenty during his time at Castleford but not even he could mastermind a 32-point comeback. Their hope was firmly snuffed out in the final minute when Stefan Ratchford added a penalty to make it 34-24, before a late Connor Wrench try set Warrington up nicely for their own tilt at a maiden Super League title in Price’s final season in charge before he is replaced by Powell.
The sight of Shenton’s career ending with an injury, along with the emotion of so many players and staff who have helped rebuild Castleford and establish them as a credible force before leaving for pastures new, was difficult to watch. But ultimately, some fairytales are destined to never come true, as Powell could painfully attest to here.
Castleford Evalds; Olpherts, Mata’utia, Shenton, Turner; O’Brien, Richardson; Griffin, McShane, Millington, Foster, Sene-Lefao, Massey. Interchange Watts, Milner, Smith, Matagi. Tries Mata’utia 2, Turner, Millington Cons Richardson 4
Warrington Ashton; Thewlis, Wrench, Mamo, Charnley; Williams, Widdop; Hill, Ratchford, Cooper, Currie, Hughes, Philbin. Interchange Clark, Mulhern, Longstaff, Austin. Tries Ashton 3, Mamo 2, Wrench Cons Ratchford 5, Widdop Pens Ratchford 2