St Helens coach Nathan Brown paid tribute to the long-serving Paul Wellens after he sparked a stunning fightback that earned his side a 30-28 victory on his record-breaking Super League appearance.
The 34-year-old Saints captain took to the field at the start of the second half with his side trailing 24-6 after being completely outplayed by hosts Castleford.
However, with Wellens leading the way at stand-off, the visitors stormed back to keep their 100 per cent record intact, with the captain scoring one of their three late tries to register his 1,000th on his 414th Super League appearance.
“He’s an amazing player and an amazing captain for us,” Brown said. “It’s no coincidence that when Wello went on the field the commitment from each player was better.
“The boys have got a lot of respect for him and, as far as captains go, and I don’t think there’s any better around.”
Castleford, beaten just once in their first seven games, looked set to take over at the top of the table after an impressive first half.
Captain Michael Shenton scored two tries, Jake Webster and Grant Millington also touched down and the Tigers had two other efforts disallowed by the video referee as they led 24-6.
The arrival of Wellens sparked new life into St Helens and they cut the gap to 10 points with tries from Jonny Lomax and Tom Makinson, but Castleford looked to have sewn up the win when winger Justin Carney went over for his side’s fifth try on 59 minutes.
However, it was all one-way traffic in the final quarter, with Jordan Turner and Wellens scoring tries that brought Saints within touching distance and left winger Adam Swift went over for the match-winner three minutes from the end.
“It’s disappointing,” Castleford coach Daryl Powell said. “It was new Cas first half, old Cas second half. I thought the second half was very poor from us.
“We allowed a team that can play a fair bit of rugby league back into the game.
“There are some hard lessons to be learned. I thought we should have won the game.
“I’m not sure the video ref got all the decisions right, but I’m not going to blame anybody but us.
“I thought we had them by the short and curlies at half-time, but we released the pressure valve.”
It was the second time in six days that Saints came back from the dead to snatch an unlikely victory.
They recovered a 16-8 deficit at Huddersfield to reach the last 16 of the Challenge Cup and Friday’s eight win from eight matches has enabled them to open up a three-point lead.
“Daryl has got them playing some really nice stuff,” Brown said. “Through the middle of the field they were far superior to us.
“They were standing in tackles and coming through us. We were never going to turn it around unless we went to meet them and tidy up some areas around that part of our defence.
“We’ve proven this year that we’re a handy team when we do those things well.”