Rugby League: Castleford say it with Flowers

Castleford 26 Bradford 21
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The Independent Online
THE Castleford coach, Stuart Raper, warned beforehand that his nerves would not stand a Wembley run composed of last-gasp victories like the one at Leeds in the previous round of the Silk Cut Challenge Cup.

His side got the decisive try of a compelling tie a little earlier this time around - with almost 10 minutes remaining - but the tension went right to the full-time hooter before the beaten finalists for the last two years were eliminated.

The substitute, Francis Maloney, was the architect of the winning try, turning his pass inside for Jason Flowers to roar through. It was a fair reflection of Castleford's more enterprising and effective use of the ball all afternoon, even if the sheer power of Bradford came close to wearing them down.

The pivotal event of the game was the sending to the sinbin of Shaun Edwards for delaying the play-the-ball after glorious handling by Mike Ford and Barrie-John Mather had released Richard Gay, who threatened the Bulls' line.

Brad Davis began to emerge as the game's outstanding figure when his sidestep beat Brian McDermott to take him in for the first. Three minutes later, Dean Sampson intercepted and driving runs from him and Richard McKell established a position from which Gael Tallec breached the Bradford defence again.

That more than wiped out Bradford's early lead, secured when Stuart Spruce managed to forced his way over from James Lowes' pass. Steve McNamara astonished everyone, not least himself, by hitting the crossbar from directly in front.

After that, Bradford concentrated on trying to overpower Castleford down the middle, only to find the Tigers defending hungrily. They finally got something to show for all their possession when a raid launched by Edwards and Robbie Paul ended with Lowes slipping through some tackling that momentarily showed a chink of vulnerability.

Castleford's response could hardly have been better. The excellent Davis started the break, sending Jason Critchley away. Danny Ellison was in support to go the final 40 yards, Davis' fourth goal giving Cas a 12-point lead at the interval.

That suddenly looked a much less secure situation a minute into the second half, when Danny Peacock wrong-footed the Castleford defence for a try which Lowes converted.

Castleford had to absorb enormous pressure that seemed to lead inexorably to Bradford drawing level, which they did when Davis and Flowers failed to clean up McNamara's low kick and Matt Calland pounced to touch down, McNamara's conversion squaring the scores. Davis had a dropped-goal attempt blocked before a better worked effort from McNamara put Bradford in front.

For a side with less spirit than Castleford, that would have been that, but Raper had brought them a very special resilience, even if his nerves are being shredded on a fortnightly basis.

Castleford: Flowers; Gay, Vowles, Mather, Critchley, Davis, Ford, Sampson, Orr, McKell, Tallec, Schick, Harland. Substitutes used: Maloney, Smith, Ellison.

Bradford: Spruce; Vaikona, Calland, Peacock, Graham, Paul, Edwards, McDermott, Lowes, Jowitt, Forshaw, Bradley, McNamara. Substitutes used: Donougher, Reihana, Anderson, Nickle.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).