Rugby League: Crowther's class

Castleford 22 Sheffield Eagles 32
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A MAN from the other side of the world, a local lad from down the street and a player who should possibly not have been on the field at all took the Eagles to their first Challenge Cup semi-final.

The combination of the Fijian, Waisale Sovatabua, and Matt Crowther, one of Sheffield's colony of Castleford-born players, set them on their way to a memorable victory, even if it was sealed under a cloud of controversy by Keith Senior, who could easily have been banished earlier for punching.

Sheffield were, however, the more enterprising side throughout, even if they took the lead in debatable circumstances when Jason Critchley looked to have been bundled into touch by a tackle. The officials saw it differently and, from the scrum awarded to the Eagles, Darren Turner sent Paul Carr driving over from close range.

Castleford replied when Danny Orr's pass enabled Brad Davis to find a gap in the Sheffield defence, but the first example of the potent link between Sovatabua and Crowther put the Eagles back in command. Carr released the ball out of a tackle and the Fijian's take-and-pass was magnificent, leaving Crowther to power over.

The ebb and flow continued with Davis setting up Barrie-John Mather, but Davis' two failures to convert, compared with Mark Aston's two successes, left Sheffield four points in the lead. They consolidated their position seven minutes before half-time when more enterprising handling allowed Sovatabua, not so much joining the line from fullback as taking up permanent residence, to send Crowther over.

Sheffield consolidated after the restart when Castleford failed to deal with David Watson's grubber-kick, allowing Savatabua to claim the touchdown. But then came the one moment of aberration from the otherwise inspirational Sheffield captain, Paul Broadbent, whose careless pass was snared by Mather for his second try. Turner's late arrival to drop on Mather sparked a scrap during which Senior appeared to lay out Mather with a punch. However, the whole incident was merely placed on report, leaving the Castleford centre free to play a crucial role.

Castleford, fired up by both the try and its aftermath, looked as though they might have one more plot twist up their sleeves. Adrian Vowles dashed over for the try that brought them to within four points. But then the Eagles regained their composure, with a relieved Senior cantering in for the two tries that made the result safe, even though Davis tricked his way over with three minutes remaining to set up a nail-biting last few minutes.

The Castleford coach, Stuart Raper, was in no doubt about the turning point: "It should have been an eight-point try and they should have been down to 12 men," he said. "They were better, but it was an incompetent performance from the referee."

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

Sheffield: Sovatabua; Pinkney, Taewa, Senior, Crowther; Watson; Aston, Broadbent, Turner, Laughton, Carr, Shaw, Doyle. Substitutes used: Wood, Stephens, Jackson, Stott.

Referee: R Connolly (Wigan).