Castleford. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 23
CASTLEFORD showed all the qualities necessary for winning big prizes, except the ability to kill off the opposition, as they left it late before ensuring that they would be Yorkshire's representatives in rugby league's Regal Trophy final.
A game that they dominated virtually from start to finish was still in doubt until the last 14 minutes, with a battered but stubborn Bradford just one score behind.
A drop goal from their captain and the man of the match, Lee Crooks, and a converted try from Graham Steadman made sure that justice was done. If, as seems likely - with all due respect to Salford - Castleford meet Wigan at Headingley on 22 January, they will need to grasp their opportunities rather earlier than that.
Bradford, badly affected by the absence through illness of their most inspirational forward, Karl Fairbank, struggled to hold Castleford from the outset and several chances had gone begging before they took the lead against the run of play.
A precise grubber kick from Neil Fullers exploited the eccentric contours of Odsal Stadium's upturned corners and the ball held up perfectly for Brimah Kebbie to win the race.
When Gerald Cordle, penalised a couple of minutes earlier after a furious punch-up with Tony Smith, prevented a Tawera Nikau try with an all- enveloping tackle, it began to look as though the match was following the pattern of last month's league meeting, when Castleford could not convert superiority into points.
They began to get their reward when Richard Russell darted over from dummy half, despite looking more than adequately marked, to equalise.
Two minutes before half- time, they finally took the lead they deserved when another slide-rule kick, this time from Crooks, allowed Smith to force his way through the crowd.
Crooks's conversion put Castleford in a strong position, but they saw opportunities made and missed by St John Ellis and Nikau before a simple move from the scrum sent Mike Ford scuttling in at the corner.
Bradford, whose resilience has been the dominant theme of their season so far, hit back immediately, Kebbie going 70 yards for a spectacular try. A Deryck Fox penalty brought Bradford back into contention and it was not until Crooks's drop goal gave them a seven- point lead that Castleford could breathe a little more easily.
It became certain that John Joyner's first season as coach was going to be highlighted by at least one major final when Nikau and Ford created the gap for Steadman.
It was closer than it should have been for longer than it had any right to be, but there was no disputing Castleford's right to a place in the final.
The free-flowing rugby that typified Joyner's own approach as a player will make them worthy finalists. All they need now is to improve their finishing and they could trouble even the most experienced veterans of big occasions.
Bradford Northern: Tries Kebbie 2; Penalty Fox.
Castleford: Tries Russell, Smith, Ford, Steadman; Goals Crooks 3; Drop goal Crooks.
Bradford Northern: D Watson; G Cordle, S McGowan, P Newlove, B Kebbie; N Summers, D Fox (capt); D Hobbs (P Grayshon, 40), T Clark (P Medley, 40), J Hamer, R Powell, P Dixon, D Heron.
Castleford: G Steadman; St J Ellis, T Smith, G Anderson, S Middleton; T Kemp, M Ford; L Crooks (capt), R Russell, M Ketteridge (D Sampson, 74), T Morrison, I Smales (A Hay, 45), T Nikau.
Referee: J Connolly (Wigan).