After an extremely entertaining and tight 80 minutes, it was Blake Austin’s drop-goal which was the difference between the two sides in a crucial 9-8 victory for Warrington Wolves against Castleford Tigers.
With Warrington coming into this game off the back of a 36-0 drubbing by Leeds, they looked to show they were title contenders against a so-far impressive Castleford Tigers side.
Unfortunately for the home fans, it wasn’t a great start as Stefan Ratchford dropped a high Danny Richardson kick just 10 metres from his own line.
However, a knock-on from Peter Mata’utia let the Wolves off the hook.
A penalty from Daniel Smith for holding on in the tackle allowed the Wire to start a set just 30 metres from the try-line. Stern Tigers defence managed to halt Warrington though and the ball was turned over.
Two consecutive penalties from the home side have Tigers the chance to take the lead through the boot of Danny Richardson and the half-back duly delivered for the first points of the night after 16 minutes.
Two points was very nearly turned into six as Paul McShane tried to sneak over the line but Josh Charnley and Keanan Brand were on hand to stop the hooker.
Further ill-discipline from Warrington have Cas good field position once more and this time the visitors were placed on a team warning by referee Robert Hicks.
Despite how he territorial advantage, the chance to cross the line wasn’t taken as Jordan Rankin’s pass to Derrell Olpherts went behind the winger into touch.
In the 25th minute, the home side made Cas pay for their failed attempts to score.
Three quick play-the-balls in a row allowed Gareth Widdop to make attack the line and Toby King to break through and release Tom Lineham with the winger diving over in the corner.
Tigers seemed to lose their hands slightly just after conceding with Olpherts offload to Mike McMeeken catching the forward off-guard meaning he knocked-on just 15 metres from his own line.
Thankfully for Daryl Powell’s men, a poor set from the hosts resulted in a turnover.
For a period of time just before half time, handling errors meant that the game became extremely scrappy but it was Warrington who seemed to be making the most of it.
The Castleford defence seemed to be at sixes and sevens whenever the Wolves played the ball quickly but when it came down to the last, the Wolves couldn’t turn their opportunities into points.
With the game opening up for both sides, the excitement seemed to take place in the middle of the park, with Danny Richardson the last player to get hold of the ball and try to beat King down the right edge. The full-back however dragged the half-back into touch as the half came to an end.
HALF-TIME: Warrington Wolves 4-2 Castleford Tigers
With the first half being tightly contested, both sides were looking to take control of the encounter.
Warrington were the first the cross the line but Sitaleki Akauola was held up in the tackle.
Just as Cas looked to hold the Wolves out, they conceded a penalty which Ratchford converted for a 6-2 lead.
A short break in play came about due to a head-knock to Peter Mata’utia in a tackle on Ben Currie.
After this knock, Castleford looked to take control of the game.
Another knock-on from Lineham under the high-ball allowed the Tigers to attack from ten metres out.
The ball was then spread out wide to Calum Turner who, despite being dragged into touch by Brand, won the visitors a penalty try due to a high tackle from the young Wolves centre.
The back and forth between the two sides continued and once again, the scores were level.
The introduction of Daryl Clark caused havoc in the Cas defence and the hooker won his side a penalty.
Ratchford converted to level the sides with just shy of an hour of the game gone.
Ben Currie made a wonderful break down the left hand edge to put the home side on the front foot and they were so close the benefitting.
Blake Austin’s cross field kick was kept alive by Tom Lineham and Daryl Clark stepped Oliver Holmes to stretch the ball to the line.
The try was not awarded though as the hooker placed the ball on the line after a double movement.
Warrington were doing well at exploited the gaps in a dogged Tigers defence, this time a looping Blake Austin pass found Josh Charnley out wide in plenty of space, but the play was brought back for a forward pass.
With ten minutes remaining and the scores locked at 8-8, both sides were once again looking to push themselves in front.
Warrington had the first opportunity to do so as a scrum just 20 metres out gave Austin the chance to kick a drop-goal.
Unfortunately for the home fans his kick went just wide and gifted Cas a seven tackle set.
The Tigers went straight up the field and Trueman attempted to kick a field goal of his own but that drifted wide as well.
After a knock-on from the Wolves, Cas were awarded with a 20 metre scrum of their own but once again the drop goal, this time from Danny Richardson, drifted inches wide of the right hand post.
Widdop was the next half-back to attempt a one-pointer and this one always missed, being the worst of the lot.
Richardson replied with another attempt, the fifth in as many minutes but once again the game stayed 8-8.
With just two minutes remaining, King picked up a neck injury in a crusher tackle and after a short break, play continued with the centre still on the field.
In the final minute of the game, it was Blake Austin who was the savour for the Warrington Wolves as his second, and the games sixth drop-goal attempt sailed perfectly between the uprights for a crucial tow points for Steve Price’s side.
FULL-TIME: Warrington Wolves 9-8 Castleford Tigers
Ratchford, Lineham, King, Brand, Charnley, Austin, Widdop, Hill, Walker, Cooper, Currie, Murdoch-Masila, J. Clark.
Interchanges: D. Clark, Philbin, Mamo, Akauola.
Goals: Ratchford (2/3)
Rankin, Olpherts, Mata’utia, Shenton, Turner, Trueman, Richardson, Smith, McShane, Griffin, Blair, McMeeken, Massey.
Interchanges: Millington, Holmes, Milner, Sene-Lefao.
Goals: Richardson (2/2)
Referee: R. Hicks
Touch Judges: M. Craven, J. Smith
Video Referee: Liam Moore