First versus third for the Sky Friday night fixture, that would either extend Castlefordís lead at the top of the table or guarantee a top four slot for the Devils moving into the Super 8ís. The pressure was certainly on Salford having lost four from their last five, could they bounce back from a heavy defeat at Headingley the week before? A dry start promised a fast game perfect for the Greg Eden to add to his try scoring tally for the season.
With the end of the first phase of the league only one week away it promised to be a competitive game. It was an opportunity for Salford to steady the nerves going in to the Super 8ís
The kick at the end of the very first Castleford set saw Evalds put his foot in touch catching the ball, gifting the Tigers a scrum on the Devils 10m line. On the subsequent Castleford set Dobson messed up clearing the ruck and gave away a cheap penalty to the Tigers. Luke Gale threw a beautifully weighted long pass to leading Super League try scorer Eden and he went easily over in the corner to put Castleford four points up with three minutes on the clock. Gale failed to make the conversion but Tigers had a dream start.
Four minutes later following a Castleford knock on from Eden, on their own line, saw the Devils gifted a scrum. After four more play the balls, two quick passes out towards the left wing, saw the ball find OíBrien who beat a couple of defenders and went over the line to level the score. Dobson couldnít add the extras but the score was level.
Passes went begging and some wayward play and several errors filled the following fifteen minutes of the game, with a great 40-20 from McShane the highlight. Then on twenty minutes the ball found Roberts who made an exceptional twisting run between the Devils defenders to go over the line and put the Tigers back ahead. This time Gale kicked the conversion and the Tigers were a converted try ahead of the Devils.
On Castlefordís next set, passes from McShane, Shenton and Gale found Eden who did his trade mark acrobatics, touching down just in play and it was another try for Castleford. Gale converted again and the lead was 16-4. Worryingly for the Tigers faithful Eden immediately went to ground and a serious looking shoulder injury led to him leaving the field in obvious discomfort.
On 30 minutes an alleged high tackle by Murdoch-Masila on Sene-Lefao saw Gale elect to go for the 2 points from 30 meters out. The kick was made and the Tigers extended their lead to 14 points.
On 32 minutes Tasi found a lovely offload to Lui who broke the Castleford line making 40 meters up field, he found Welham who covered the last 20 meters to go over for four points. Dobson made it 6 and Salford had a lifeline back in the game.
The last 8 minutes didnít yield anymore points and the side finished with the league leaders in front but not by a commanding margin.
On the second set of the second half for Salford and with 43 minutes on the clock a series of passes found Bibby on the wing and the video ref confirmed Thalerís on field view that the ball was lost before grounding. The try was struck off.
On 46 minutes veteran Monaghan took a pass from the Tigers playmaker Gale and a short sweeping run round the Devils defence found him crossing the line coming in towards the posts and giving Gale an easier kick. Another 6 points for the Tigers and the lead was back to 14.
Just four minutes later and on a third tackle from the halfway line, Hardaker found Shenton who in turn returned the ball to Hardaker and the full back was in open space to go over under the sticks. Handbags further down the field in relation to a late challenge was a distraction but there was no getting away from the fact that the game was slipping away from Salford. Gale added the extras and with 30 minutes to go the Tigers were 20 points to the good.
On 53 minutes Gale kicked his second 40-20 of the game but it was wasted when the ball was lost in the tackle by Lynch.
On 57 minutes after Salford made a concerted effort on the Tigers line and a reset of the tackle count, a long series of cross field passing resulted in the ball again finding Bibby on the wing. This time there was no drop ball from the winger who rolled out of the attempted tackle to go over. Bentham had no doubts about awarding the try. Dobson missed the kick but the gap was back to 16 points.
On 62, following a final play the ball kick through to the Castleford line, Hardaker picked the ball up making 20 meters down field, Welham struck at the ball in Hardakerís arms knocking it loose, Evalds picked up the ball and went over the line. Bentham wasnít certain but gave a try on the field and passed the decision to the video ref. Thaler controversially ruled that Welham held back Hardaker from regathering the lost ball and the Benthams on field decision was over-ruled.
On 64 Castleford pressed at the other end and Shenton found Monaghan who went over in the corner to stretch the lead once again putting the game well out of reach of Salford.
On 71 Murray was accused of a flop and Gale elected to go for two points directly in front of the sticks. The lead was extended by another two points to extend the lead to 24 points.
With the penalty count and the score mounting against the Devils, Hauraki earned himself an early shower, spending the last 3 minutes of the game in the bin following a late challenge.
The game finished a little scrappily in the rain with both sides having fought hard. Castleford showed that they have no intention of taking their foot off the gas and it is going to take a miracle for anyone else to take the league leaders shield from them come the end of the Super 8s competition.
Salford will need to come up with tidier play and more control if they want to walk out of and old Trafford dressing room come October, they will be disappointed with the penalties they gave away and that the winning margin ended up as large for the Tigers.
Daryl Powell will be happy with the skill his team showed but I am sure both him and the club would trade in this win for a fit Eden. Will his injury prove decisive over who lifts the Super League trophy come the end of the season?
Tigers: Hardaker (T),Hitchcox, Minikin, Shenton(c), Roberts (T), Eden (2T), Gale (7G), Massey, McMeeken, Foster, Sene-Lefao, Millington, McShane. Subs: Lynch, Springer, Monaghan(2T), Larroyer.
Devils: OíBrien (T), Evalds, Welham (T), Jones, Carney, Bibby (T), Dobson(c) (G), Hauraki, Murdoch-Masila, Lannon, Murray, Griffin, Tomkins. Subs: Lui, Tasi, Walne, Krasniqi.
Referee: Phil Bentham.