Warrington hold nerve to keep play-off hopes alive

Castleford 16 Warrington 29
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The Independent Online

Warrington struck a potentially crucial blow in the struggle for a top-six place with a display that showed that they can now play without Lee Briers. The Wolves coped far better without their playmaker than Castleford did without Danny Orr and, apart from a brief scare in the second half, were always the better side at The Jungle.

"There's been a lot said about losing key players so it was pleasing the way we kept our shape and structure,'' said their coach, Paul Cullen. "I couldn't be happier with the 17 out there today.''

If this was a battle between likely contenders for the playoffs, it was a suitably tense and tactical one for most of the first half. Dean Gaskell has had his highs and lows in his first season as a first-teamer, but the opening few minutes yesterday will not be among his favourite memories.

First he was caught out by a precise kick from the Castleford scrum-half, Mitch Healey, to his wing, which was taken cleanly by Paul Mellor for the game's first try. Gaskell should have made swift amends, but put down Graham Appo's pass with the Tigers' defence split asunder.

It took two Appo penalties to bring Warrington level and the complexion of the game changed radically in the minutes leading up to half-time, after Michael Smith had had a try disallowed for Castleford.

Paul Wood timed his run to touch down from Appo's well-measured little kick and then the other unrelated Wood, the half-back Nat, burst through the middle for a try which Appo converted for a 10-point lead at the break.

Warrington made it three tries in five minutes when Sid Domic scored from Darren Burns' kick immediately after half-time, and Appo's penalty nudged them further ahead.

But then Gaskell fumbled and Andy Johnson's converted try narrowed the margin. When Wayne Godwin went over from a lovely break from Tom Saxton, Cas were suddenly within one score.

"I had absolute confidence that we would tough it out,'' Cullen said, and that was borne out when Jerome Guisset finger-tipped the ball to Brent Grose for the clinching try, followed by Appo's sixth goal and a drop from Nat Wood.

Castleford's Graham Steadman admitted that defeat probably marked the end of their play-off ambitions. "It's all about playing for personal pride now and if we're still in with a chance, that will be a bonus,'' he said.

For Warrington, relegation candidates this time last year, the prospect could not look more different. "We're desperate to finish sixth or above,'' Cullen said. "We've spent too long in the shadows.''

Castleford: Rogers; Mellor, Maloney, Eagar, Pryce, Hepworth, Healey, Sykes, Hudson, Lynch, Smith, Fritz, Harland. Substitutes used: Saxton, Godwin, Huby, Johnson.

Warrington: Penny; Gaskell, Sibbit, Westwood, Grose, Appo, N Wood, Hilton, Clarke, Fozzard, P Wood, Burns, Wainwright. Substitutes used: Hulse, Domic, Guisset, Stevens.

Referee: A Klein (London).