Widnes. . . . . .6
PLAYERS and coaches hoping to avoid Castleford in the semi-finals of the Silk Cut Challenge Cup will have watched Saturday's comfortable progress to that stage of the competition with a deepening sense of foreboding.
Castleford were too good in every department for last year's beaten Wembley finalists. With so many players sold since last May - and another potential match-winner, John Devereux, injured - Widnes were always going to be dependent on teamwork and tactical acumen. When they fell short on those counts, there was nothing to detain Castleford in their gallop towards further knock-out success.
The policy was clear enough; kicking early towards the worst area of a pitch and trying to force mistakes. But Widnes either dropped the ball before they had worked their way into position or put in the most innocuous of kicks.
Castleford had to adjust to the loss of Tawera Nikau in the 10th minute. Their game revolved, hesitantly at first but later with an unstoppable momentum, around the axis of Lee Crooks, Mike Ford and Tony Kemp, and two first-half tries were a modest return for their domination.
The loss of Stuart Spruce, Widnes' main attacking threat as well as a reliable last line of defence, at half-time was the final blow. His replacement, David Ruane, is no stranger to the full-back role, but something went drastically wrong when Castleford scored three times within nine minutes from short kicks which found no one at home.
A cynic might say that it was only when Ruane, along with Castleford's influential Kemp, was sent to the sin-bin for the closing minutes, that Widnes knew for certain where their full-back was. By then it was too late to matter.
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).