Rugby League: Middleton treble lifts valorous Castleford

Click to follow
Bradford Northern. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .16

Castleford. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24

A HAT-TRICK of tries from Simon Middleton in 15 minutes of the second half ensured that the season will end with another showdown between Castleford and Wigan.

Castleford booked their place in Sunday's Stones Bitter Premiership final at Old Trafford by overturning a 10-point deficit in an error-ridden but ultimately compelling game.

Castleford have divided the spoils with next week's opponents in the Regal Trophy final, a Challenge Cup semi-final, and two pivotal league games so far this season. They will need to make less mistakes than they did yesterday if they are to win at Old Trafford, but the way in which they recovered from a dreadful first quarter at Odsal suggests that they will not lack resolve.

Castleford fell behind when Paul Newlove's one-handed pass sent Paul Dixon charging through, and the deflection put the ball in Karl Fairbank's arms for the try. Deryck Fox added the goal, and his long pass sent Neil Summers through some flimsy defence to put Bradford swiftly into double figures.

Castleford, to their credit, had the bulk of the play after that unpromising start. Lee Crooks' penalty got them moving and Andy Hay's fine break sent Chris Smith through attempted tackles from Paul Medley and Gerald Cordle for their first try.

Crooks's conversion left Castleford still trailing by two points at the break, but then came Middleton's crucial contribution. If his first two tries were relatively routine, short- range affairs, first from a clever overhead pass from Dean Sampson and then after Dave Watson had commited one of the game's most glaring blunders by spilling the ball near his try line, Middleton made up for that with his third.

A run worthy of his Wigan counterpart, Martin Offiah, started virtually on his own line after he picked up David Heron's kick and took him 95 yards for the try that knocked the stuffing out of Bradford.

They might have clawed their way back but for the referee, John Connolly, who denied Heron what looked a good try after Ian Smales had dropped the ball. Instead, Mike Ford put the result beyond doubt by scooping up Tawera Nikau's pass to score. Newlove's injury-time try for Bradford merely emphasised how well Castleford had controlled him for the rest of the game.

Bradford Northern: Watson; Hall, Shelford, Newlove, Cordle; Summers, Fox; Powell, Clark, Grayshon (Hamer, 63), Dixon, Medley (Heron, 45), Fairbank.

Castleford: Ellis; C Smith, Blackmore, T Smith, Middleton; Steadman (Smales, 70), Ford; Crooks, Russell (Sykes, 51), Sampson, Ketteridge, Hay, Nikau.

Referee: J Connolly (Wigan).