Rugby League: Rolling Thunder start to rumble

Gateshead Thunder 24 Castleford Tigers 16
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The Independent Online
GATESHEAD DECLARED their intention to fight all the way for a place in the Super League play-offs with what could well be the most significant victory of their short history.

Completing the double over Castleford yesterday takes them level with the Tigers on points, with all to play for in the last 10 games of the season. They won this one more convincingly than the score suggests, only a last-minute try from Cas giving the illusion that they had not been soundly beaten in the second half.

In front of an enthusiastic crowd that suggests the game is gaining a firm footing in the North-east, Gateshead took an early lead through a try from Adam Maher and two goals from Ian Herron.

The game swung against them with a controversial try midway through the first half. The ball went to ground from Aaron Raper and ran on off Jason Flowers's foot for the full-back to follow up and score.

Herron was so incensed by the try being allowed that he was sent to the sin-bin, while Danny Orr's conversion brought Castleford to within two points.

In Herron's absence, Ben Sammut, a solid presence at full-back throughout, put over a penalty to extend that lead, but a try from Ian Tonks levelled the scores before half-time.

With the wind blowing off the Tyne and into their faces in the second half, there was an obvious question mark over whether Gateshead could win it. They had the boost of a quite brilliant try five minutes after the restart from Deon Bird.

Kerrod Walters sparked the move, darting away from dummy-half in characteristic fashion and sending Brett Grogan down the right wing. His pass inside was low, but Bird, impressive in the pack in his first game there since his junior days, picked up the score and Gateshead were on their way to two precious points.

Herron added a penalty for a high tackle by Brad Hepi to his conversion and the Thunder made absolutely sure of the spoils seven minutes from time. The pressure exerted by their tackling was responsible, Dean Sampson spilling the ball near his own line and Craig Simon scooping it up to release Steve Collins, Herron kicking his fifth goal from five attempts.

Sampson's last-gasp try for Castleford was of little account. By that time there was a parrot flying around the roof of the stand as if to celebrate the success of Gateshead's predominantly Australian side.

After their slip at Halifax last week, the result was a huge relief for their coach, Shaun McRae. "I'm elated with the result," he said. "We've drawn level with Castleford and we can go on from here.

"There was a lot of soul searching after the defeat against Halifax last week where we were very disappointed. But this was a character-building win."

Unlike the equivalent game at Castleford, there was no way of arguing that the Thunder had achieved their result with a dour, grinding approach. As the 4,000 or so Geordies in the crowd would testify, they have become a highly watchable team as well as an effective one.

Gateshead Thunder: Sammut; Herron, Grogan, Collins, Daylight; Simon, Peters; Felsch, Jenkins, McAllister, Grimaldi, Maher, Bird. Substitutes used: Walters, Maiden, S Allwood, O'Neill.

Castleford Tigers: Flowers; Gay, Eagar, Rogers, Wells; Maloney, Orr; Sampson, Raper, Tonks, Tallec, Fritz, Vowles. Substitutes used: Smith, Lynch, Hepi, Ellison.

Referee: S Ganson (St Helens).