Kings of the knockout in 2019, the Warrington Wolves, came up against the Castleford Tigers in the first Elimination play-off at the Halliwell-Jones. A loss tonight would see an exit from the competition at the first hurdle, the winners could live to dream another week of Old Trafford on the 12th October.
The sides have met three times previously in the current season of Super League with the Wolves winning the first two games, but the Tigers picking up a victory in the most recent meeting at the end of July. Neither side were in great form with the visitors only winning three of their last six games, while Warrington have lost four of their last six.
The home side were odds-on favourites for the win, but the Tigers faithful were in attendance hoping that their side could finally register an away win in the Super League play-offs.
The scoreboard should have been up an running after four minutes, but Stefan Ratchford was unable to kick a simple looking penalty goal from twenty metres.
It was a high speed opening to the game with plenty of errors, and defensive dominance which ran the clock to twenty-seven minutes before the opening score. It was the Tigers who got the first score when Adam Milner won the short race to collect and ground a Paul McShane grubber kick by the right upright. Peter Mata’utia added a simple conversion for a 6-0 lead.
Five minutes from the interval Daryl Clark pushed his way to the line under a pile of Tigers defenders. Referee Kendall sent the incident upstairs as a TRY but the video referee over-ruled him and chalked it off.
Jake Trueman lost the ball just short of the line on thirty-nine under a robust tackle and the Tigers went into the interval with a narrow six point lead.
Within two minutes of the restart the Wolves opened their account thanks to a Ben Currie kick charge down which set up the position for Jake Mamo to slide over in the corner, a couple of minutes after coming on for the injured Blake Austin. Ratchford converted from the sideline to level the scores at 6-6. Advantage Warrington.
On forty-seven Jordan Rankin appeared to catch the Wolves defence asleep as he ran the angle and stretched for the line to score one-handed. Mata’utia added the conversion from wide right for a 12-6 lead.
Mata’utia added a crucial thirty metre penalty goal, straight into his supporters behind the sticks to extend the lead to eight points.
Warrington went on the immediate offensive with Chris Hill being the first to react to a Daryl Clark kick and dab the ball down after Jordan Rankin couldn’t collect the bouncing ball. Ratchford added the goal and the lead was back down to two points with ten minutes remaining.
Ratchford was short with a fifty metre penalty goal attempt on seventy-four, mmissing the chance to level the scores.
As the Wolves kept the ball alive entering the last sixty seconds it looked like they might just snatch it at the death but the ball went to ground and the Tigers breathed again.
Bryson Goodwin was sin-binned ten seconds from the end after misplaced words with the referee and the final hooter sounded amongst boo’s from the home supporters.
The Tigers progress to next week and another eliminator against the losers of tomorrow’s Wigan Warriors v. Salford Red Devils clash. The Wolves will have to console themselves with the Challenge Cup from their 2019 exploits and start their preparation for the 2020 season. There are some happy supporters and players making their way back over the Pennines tonight, already planning a return trip for next weekend.
Wolves: Ratchford (2G), Lineham, Goodwin (SB on 79), King, Charnley, Austin, Patton, Hill (T), Clark D, Cooper, Currie, Hughes, Clark J. Subs: Murdoch-Masila, Philbin, Mamo (T), Westwood.
Tigers: Turner, Clare, Mata’utia (3G), Blair, Minikin, Trueman, Rankin (T), Watts, McShane, Millington, Holmes, Clarkson, Smith. Subs: Ellis, Milner (T), Cook, O’Neill.
Referee: Chris Kendall.