Halifax. . . .23
CASTLEFORD lost one lead but built and just managed to hang on to another to progress into the semi-finals of the Stones Bitter Premiership after a gripping tie last night.
There was no end of season flavour in the way that Castleford began their Premiership campaign. Within seven minutes, their greater urgency and incisiveness had twice opened up a hesitant Halifax defence and St John Ellis, already Castleford's record try scorer and the most potent finisher in the League this season, had taken his tally from 38 to 40.
He claimed his first try as a direct result of Castleford's early pressure, kicking through from a play-the-ball near the try-line and nudging a rebound forward again to score.
His second came from a more classical build-up, Tawera Nikau and Richie Blackmore opening a route for Ellis on the right wing.
Halifax began to make
inroads when their winger, Henry Sharp, won the race to touch down Roy Southernwood's cleverly angled kick.
On the stoke of half-time, Halifax's increasingly constructive rugby paid off again, Divorty's reverse pass sending in John Schuster and Paul Bishop's first successful kick levelled the scores.
Bishop's 35-yard penalty put Halifax ahead early in the second half and Castleford indiscipline cost them the services of Lee Crooks, sent to the sin-bin.
While he was away, Castleford took control with Karl Harrison's rampaging break setting the scene for Michael Hagan's pass to squeeze Mark Preston in at the corner. Bishop could not add the difficult conversion, but chipped in with a strategic drop goal to put Halifax seven points ahead.
Crooks announced his reappearance with a penalty after an incident which saw Halifax's substitute, Paul Anderson, sent off for 10 minutes of an increasingly stormy match.
With 14 minutes to play, Castleford took advantage of a Bishop knock-on, Graham Steadman side-stepping over after they won the ball from a scrum. Crooks' conversion put them back ahead.
That lead looked comfortable when Blackmore scythed through the Hailfax defence for another converted try. That ushered in a hectic final phase, Diviorty chasing Bishop's kick to bring Halifax within one point. But a Blackmore try finally put the issue beyond doubt in injury time.
Castleford: Ellis; C Smith, Blackmore, T Smith, Middleton; Steadman, Ford; Crooks, Russell (Ketteridge, 80), Sampson, Ketteridge (Smales, h/t), Hay, Nikau.
Halifax: Hampson; Sharp, Schuster (Fieldhouse, h/t), Bentley, Preston; Hagan, Bishop; Harrison, Southernwood, Fieldhouse (Anderson, 34), Round (Lord, 26), Jackson, Divorty.
Referee: D Campbell (Widnes).