Rugby League: Classy Castleford castle the kings

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The Independent Online
Castleford. . .33

Wigan. . . . . .2

THE all-conquering were completely conked out by the end of this humiliating defeat. Wigan, having arrived at the Regal Trophy final as solid favourites to begin their annual collection of rugby league's heavy metal, were completely outclassed by a Castleford team who sparkled from every facet of a brilliant display.

In capturing this trophy for Yorkshire for the first time since 1985, Castleford had heroes popping out of every yellow and black shirt, but their captain Lee Crooks was probably the most significant, breaking the 20-year-old individual scoring record with 16 points in a final. His goalkicking was faultless and his try in the final minutes sent mocking cries of 'easy, easy' around Headingley - not an echo Wigan are used to hearing.

As a team, Wigan looked like a millionaire trying to break into his own mansion, and when you are used to having doors opened for you that is not an easy task. But any analysis of how badly Wigan played deprives Castleford of the rightful acknowledgement of a performance that has surely not been bettered in their history. They have been shaping up as a team full of skill, vision and the capability to cause surging surprises in any part of the field and the peak they reached yesterday will turn this season on its head, and their wrecking of Wigan's supposed invincibility will invigorate the hopes of several other rivals.

Wigan had already announced that their new pounds 400,000 acquisition from the ranks of the All Blacks, Va'aiga Tuigamala would make his debut in the Challenge Cup against Wakefield next weekend and the speculation has been where he would play. After this performance, he could take his pick of positions but the poor performance of Martin Offiah suggests that the left wing would be a timely place for Inga to start his league career.

Of the many attributes Castleford brought into this game the confident audacity to believe they could win was prime among them. There was no trace of an attempt to contain the champions during the opening spell and when Shaun Edwards completed Wigan's six-pass sequence with a kick ahead, St John Ellis ran the ball straight back at them to make 20 yards and provide an example that was followed by Simon Middleton and Graham Steadman to send tributaries of yellow through the Wigan ranks. It soon became a flood and the game was barely seven minutes old when Tawera Nikau flew over the line from Richard Blackmore's pass. Crooks curled in the first of his conversions and was back with the second five minutes later after a swirling Castleford attack that Wigan were powerless to stop. A great break by Ellis down the right took Castleford to within a couple of yards of the line but Mike Ford, whose control of the game was already established, whipped the ball across the line and Ian Smales produced a perfect diagonal kick for Grant Anderson to score out on the left.

Wigan managed one of their few spirited retaliations of the match but gained no more than a penalty, which Botica kicked. But there were already worrying signs that all was not well amid Wigan's back division. Edwards was being out- manoeuvred by Ford in the middle of the action and Wigan's famed power on the flanks looked very suspect.

Castleford's man of the match was the prop Martin Ketteridge, who scored the first of his two tries just before the interval, at which stage the score was 20-2. Tony Kemp added a drop goal and when an up-and-under by Ford was dropped by the substitute Panapa, Ketteridge was there to score his second. Kelvin Skerrett was sinbinned for a disgruntled lunge at one of his tormentors and it remained only for Crooks to add a final flourish to his own team's memorable afternoon.

Castleford: Tries Nikau, Anderson, Ketteridge 2, Crooks; Goals Crooks 6; Drop Goal Kemp. Wigan: Goal Botica.

Castleford: G Steadman; S J Ellis, R Blackmore, G Anderson (A Hay, 62), S Middleton; T Kemp, M Ford; L Crooks (capt), R Russell, M Ketteridge (Sampson, 73), T Morrison, I Smales, T Nikau.

Wigan: J Lydon; J Robinson, B Mather, G Connolly, M Offiah; F Botica, S Edwards (S Panapa, 50); K Skerrett, M Dermott, A Platt (capt), N Cowie (M Cassidy, 30), A Farrell, P Clarke.

Referee: D Campbell (St Helens).

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