SAINTS had to withstand a late spell of relentless pressure to pick up two much-needed points at a rain-lashed Wheldon Road on Easter Monday.
They had to show sheer grit and character in defence to deny Castleford at least a share of the spoils, as well as overcoming the body blow of losing three key players – winger Ade Gardner, half-back Gary Wheeler and second rower Tony Puletua – through injury during a tough and uncompromising encounter.
Saints acting head coach Mike Rush said: “I thought our attitude and determination, backing up the disappointment of losing to arch-rivals Wigan Warriors on Good Friday, was magnificent.
“Defensively we were outstanding, particularly in the latter stages.
“Three times we successfully defended 18 tackles and, in the last five minutes, probably defended 24 tackles.
“All you can say is that, mentally, we were very strong and our determination was fantastic.
“Our approach is second to none and both Keiron Cunningham and I are privileged to have players under our wings who are prepared to dig in week-in and week-out.”
It wasn’t the kind of game which set the pulses racing, but the conditions didn’t help attempts to play expansive rugby, reflected by the high number of handling errors and punctuated by moments of indiscipline in both camps.
This led to an often stop-start affair but, over the 80 minutes, Saints emerged as worthy winners.
An early 40/20 from hooker James Roby put Saints on the front foot and, despite losing powerhouse forward Puletua with a shoulder injury after 13 minutes, they snatched the lead midway through the half.
Stand-off Wheeler and centre Michael Shenton combined to send winger Gardner crashing over in the right-hand corner, but Cas, who had gradually eased their way back into contention, responded quickly, taking the lead via a try from centre Brett Ferres, which full-back Kirk Dixon goaled from the left touchline.
Their lead, however, only lasted a few minutes – Roby’s slick offload being collected by Sia Soliola, who blasted his way over the whitewash to give the visitors an 8-6 interval lead.
Saints suffered a further injury blow at the start of the second-half when Gardner crumbled to the ground in agony after attempting to take a high ball – and was carried off on a stretcher.
Despite having to reorganise once more, they moved further in front when Shenton, playing against his former club, punished an error by darting through a gap and racing over the line.
Wheeler missed his third successive goal, and his afternoon of woe ended on the hour mark when he limped off, forcing Saints to reshuffle yet again.
It didn’t affect their concentration and it looked as though they were well on their way to victory when winger Francis Meli scored an interception try, scorching almost the full length of the field down the left flank and leaving defenders trailing in his wake.
Roby landed the goal to give Saints a 12-point cushion, but Cas set up a grandstand finish when Ferres claimed his second try and Dixon added the extras.
It also took a timely interception from skipper Paul Wellens to end the Tigers resistance, the final hooter sounding seconds later.
Castleford Tigers: Dixon, Atkinson, Ferres, Thompson, Griffin, McGoldrick, Milner, Walker, Hudson, Nash, Mitchell, Holmes, Davies.
Subs: Emmitt, Snitch, S Jones, Grehan
Saints: Wellens, Gardner, Shenton, Jones (J), Meli, Wheeler, Hohaia, Perry, Roby, Laffranchi, Puletua, Soliola, Flannery.
Subs: McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Flanagan, Clough, Magennis
Referee: Richard Silverwood
STAR MAN – JOSH JONES
CENTRE Jones only made his debut a couple of week ago but while it is still early days he looks to have the potential to become yet another successful product of the club’s youth policy which is the envy of many other clubs.
He showed solidity in defence against Cas and at the same time was never afraid to move forward when the opportunity arose.
Saints have suffered one or two injuries over the Easter period and Jones’ introduction to first team rugby couldn’t have come at a better time both for the club and the player.