Tries: Gay 2, Eagar 2, Rogers Tries: Hammond, Offiah, Gill Goals: Orr 2 Beazley, Edwards, Retchless
Pen: Orr Goals: Warton 4
Drop: Orr Drop: Beazley
Half-time: 12-14 Attendance: 7,561
IF THERE has ever been a more dramatic Challenge Cup semi-final, no one at Headingley yesterday could remember it.
A minute into injury time, after they had twice been dragged back from the threshold of Wembley, the London Broncos won it with a try from their man of the match, Steele Retchless, and it was finally safe to breathe again.
An afternoon of incredible twists and turns was finally resolved when Retchless, an undersized second-rower playing prop for the depleted Broncos, went further beyond the call of duty, taking a pass from Robbie Beazley and plunging over.
"I saw that there was a gap and it was now or never," said Retchless, a player hitherto known more for his colourful name than his admirable performances. "It was the best moment of my career."
Although it will be of little consolation to Castleford players, few of them will ever be involved in a better match. "I suppose we're glad to have been part of a classic," said the Castleford coach, Stuart Raper. "I thought London were the better side on the day. We hung on, but we never dominated."
London took the lead after 10 minutes, Shaun Edwards providing a short pass for Karle Hammond to drive over and Brett Warton landing the goal from wide out.
Martin Offiah's blunder, throwing the ball forward for a 20-metre tap after misinterpreting Stuart Cummings' ruling, gave Castleford two points by way of reply but two tries in four minutes were evidence that London were unfazed.
The first came when the tireless Retchless combined with John Timu to send Offiah over. Then Darren Rogers' knock-on from a long kick gave London possession from a scrum. Peter Gill's inside ball sent Matt Toshack towards the line and Beazley finished the job from dummy half.
Cas began their first fightback as Danny Orr and Francis Maloney sent Richard Gay away, and when Michael Eagar went in for a try converted by Orr the margin was down to two points.
Beazley's drop goal soon after the break gave London a little extra breathing space and they again seemed to be on their way to making the short journey from the Stoop to Wembley when Warton ran back a drop out and Edwards supported for another converted try to take the lead to nine.
Still the suspicion was there that Castleford's extra size might win the day, especially when Dean Sampson got a superb ball out of the tackle, Eagar's kick rebounded from Tulsen Tollett and Rogers went in.
Orr's long touch-finder then produced the position from which Gay somehow squeezed in at the corner despite a two-man tackle and, when Adrian Vowles got a near-miraculous ball away to Eagar for another Castleford try, Orr's goal put them ahead for the first time.
By rights, London's heads should have drooped, but with four minutes to play, their veteran loose forward Gill found a gap and Warton's goal edged them ahead once more.
Orr's drop goal squared up the scores in the last minute of normal time and, although the London coach, Dan Stains, claimed that he would have backed his men in extra time, Retchless made such calculations unnecessary.
Castleford: Flowers; Gay, Eagar, Maloney, Rogers; Orr, Davis; Sykes, Raper, Sampson, Tonks, Fritz, Vowles. Substitutes used: Pickering, Lynch, Tallec.
London: Tollett; Warton, Fleming, Timu, Offiah; Hammond, Edwards; Retchless, Beazley, Millard, Simpson, Peters, Gill. Substitutes used: Toshack, Callaway, Salter.
Referee: Stuart Cummings (Widnes).