Leuluai boots Cas out of play-offs

Wigan 18 Castleford 12
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The Independent Online

Castleford's season of solid, sometimes spectacular improvement is over, after they were eliminated from the Super League play-offs rather more emphatically than the scoreline shows by Wigan, who now face a trip to Hull KR on Saturday.

To go from last to seventh in the table in a year is a commendable achievement but, despite a late flurry last night, the Tigers never looked capable of taking the extra step against a Wigan side themselves well short of their best.

Wigan will need to be a lot better at Craven Park next weekend, but their victory delays the announcement about coach Brian Noble's future for at least another week. In many ways, this was a typical win for one of his sides – ground out with plenty of pragmatic efficiency and few frills.

In a first half of disappointing quality and few clear-cut chances, the best early opportunity fell to Castleford, whose talented young full-back Richard Owen was on a weaving run to the try-line until felled by a tackle from the ultra-reliable George Carmont.

When the points came, they did so in rather mundane – not to say repetitive – fashion, with both Wigan tries springing from Thomas Leuluai's high kicks to the left wing.

From the first, it looked as though both Pat Richards and Carmont might have knocked on before Harrison Hansen touched down but, after lengthy scrutiny, the video referee awarded the try.

There was no doubt about the second, in the 33rd minute, when Richards caught the kick cleanly and funnelled the ball to Carmont for him to score in the corner.

With Richards landing both the difficult conversions, Wigan had a handy lead, which could have been considerably handier but for Owen's tackle to take Joel Tomkins into touch. A try might have been disallowed for an earlier infringement, but Owen could not take that chance. Cas began the second half looking even more like a team that could not quite work out what they were doing in the play-offs.

Michael Wainwright lost the ball in the tackle, Ryan McGoldrick was penalised for a grapple tackle on Sam Tomkins and Richards put over his third goal.

The best rugby of the match came in the 50th minute, when swift handling from Sam Tomkins and Cameron Phelps sent Amos Roberts over.

Although the Tigers' hopes were fading fast, they hit back just after the hour, when Phelps fumbled Brent Sherwin's kick and Craig Huby trundled over from close range. Joe Westerman, surprisingly only used as a substitute, added the goal and then got a late try from Owen's pass and the conversion that gave them a glimmer of hope in the closing minutes.

They could not manufacture a scoring position, though, as the last three minutes ticked down, so their adventure is over.

Wigan: Phelps; Roberts, Gleeson, Carmont, Richards; S Tomkins, Leuluai; Coley, McIlorum, Prescott, J Tomkins, Hansen, O'Loughlin. Substitutes used: Riddell, Fielden, Palea'aesina, Flanagan.

Castleford: Owen; Dixon, Shenton, Evans, Wainwright; McGoldrick, Shenton; Sargent, Chase, Huby, Ferres, Clayton, Jones. Substitutes used: Westerman, Higgins, Feather, Netherton.

Referee: I Smith (Oldham).