Rugby League: Crooks mugs Widnes

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The Independent Online
Castleford. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .30

Widnes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .6

CASTLEFORD had no need to display all the fluency of which they are capable to advance into the semi-finals of the rugby league Silk Cup Challenge Cup at the expense of a Widnes side who never looked remotely capable of making a return to Wembley.

Already the holders of the Regal Trophy, Castleford dominated the territorial battle of the first half and then killed off last season's beaten finalists with a burst of three tries, all virtual carbon copies of each other, in the second.

Handicapped by the early loss of one of their main playmakers, the New Zealand loose forward Tawera Nikau, with a neck injury which thankfully does not seem to be as serious as it looked when he was carried off with his neck in a brace, Castleford took time to get into their stride.

Once their man of the match, Mike Ford, had sent Lee Crooks striding through a gap to set up Tony Morrison's first try, however, they were always firmly in control. For Widnes, only one good move sparked by Paul Moriarty's break and a long run by Stuart Spruce promised any respite.

Both sides were making frequent handling mistakes, but the fact that Widnes were making them almost exclusively deep in their own territory kept them under severe pressure. Just when it appeared that they might survive until half-time with a 6-0 deficit, Tony Kemp and Nikau's replacement, Andy Hay, opened them up again for Ford to score.

Widnes, with so many of their hopes for what was always destined to be a difficult season invested in the Cup, dropped some mild hints of a revival after the break. Moriarty had a touchdown disallowed after Graham Steadman had clearly been taken out under Bobby Goulding's kick and David Ruane was stopped just short of the line.

All they could muster, however, was a penalty from Goulding which was wiped out by Crooks' third goal even before Castleford identified and then ruthlessly exploited a glaring weakness in Widnes' defensive organisation.

The loss of Spruce with an ankle injury at half-time had left Widnes without a specialist full- back and three times within nine minutes Castleford put kicks into gaping holes behind the try- line and came away with easy points. Steadman kicked and touched down himself for the first and then his grubber bounced off Ruane for Morrison to claim his second try. Like a torturer probing a weak point, Castleford put themselves out of sight when Crooks' equally measured kick through teed up Ford.

The outstanding Kemp and Ruane were in the sin-bin following a midfield scuffle by the time Widnes responded with a late try of little consequence, Moriarty rampaging down the right touchline for a solo score that deserved more relevant timing.

By then, Widnes' dream of another final was long dead. Castleford had not delved too deeply into their full repertoire yet had still shown that they are going to be difficult to divert from Wembley.

Castleford: Tries Ford 2, Morrison 2, Steadman; Goals: Crooks 5. Widnes: Try Moriarty; Goal Goulding.

Castleford: Steadman; Ellis, Blackmore, Anderson, Middleton; Kemp, Ford; Crooks (Ketteridge, 74), Russell, Ketteridge (England, 63), Morrison, Smales, Nikau (Hay, 10).

Widnes: Spruce (Ruane, h/t); Myers, Hammond, Wright, Hadley; D Hulme, Goulding; Ireland (Moriarty, 64), McCurrie, Smith, Moriarty (Koloto, 47), Faimalo, P Hulme.

Referee: J Connolly (Wigan).

(Photograph omitted)