A place against either the Warrington Wolves, St Helens or Hull FC was up for grabs as the Castleford Tigers took on the Salford Red Devils in the last of the 2021 Betfred Challenge Cup quarter finals at Emerald Headingley.
On paper there was a chasm between the two sides with the Tigers sitting third in Super League with just a single defeat while the Red Devils were third from bottom with just a single victory, but this is the cup and the form guide can be ripped up and thrown away for a one-off fixture with a semi-final place on offer.
The Tigers were strong favourites, especially after winning the Super League match between the two sides a week ago, but after reaching the final last season the Salford side were not just there making up the numbers.
The game kicked off in torrential rain, the conditions could be a leveller.
There were handling errors from both sides in the early exchanges, but it was the Tigers who laid siege to the Salford line for long periods, the Salford defence playing brilliantly to deny them any points.
On fourteen a high kick from Kevin Brown was flapped at by Derrell Olpherts in the in-goal area and as it reached the ground was touched down by Harvey Livett to give Salford the lead against the run of play.
Ten minutes later, after absorbing a lot of Red Devils pressure, the Tigers levelled the scores as Daniel Smith managed to jam the ball onto the line from first receiver with a five-metre run. Danny Richardson added the conversion for 6-6. Both opening tries were scored on the back of excellent defensive stints.
On thirty-three the Red Devils went in again, Livett punching a hole through the defensive line and going twenty metres to dive over the line giving the Tigers defence no chance of halting him. The Salford centre made no mistake with the kick for 12-6.
There was thirty seconds left on the first half clock when Peter Mata’utia was on hand with a big Castleford overlap to score in the right corner. Richardson added the conversion for 12-12 at the interval, a real arm-wrestle.
On forty-seven Michael Shenton lost the ball on the Salford line under the tackle of Ken Sio.
Shenton made amends on the hour mark when he stooped to take a Paul McShane pass, after the quicksilver half-back had mesmerised four defenders, and stumbling to the line to dive over. Gareth O’Brien found the target with his kick for a six-point advantage.
On sixty-five Gareth O’Brien was sin-binned for a professional foul as he obstructed a Salford kick chaser in front of the sticks. On the last play from the penalty Kevin Brown went over the line but couldn’t get the ball down thanks to a herculean effort from the Tigers defence.
McShane had a shocking attempt at a drop goal on seventy-two, the ball hardly getting off the ground.
Elijah Taylor was cleaned out after passing the ball by Liam Watts on seventy-three, two men down for a couple of minutes. Lee Mossop was held up over the line and four tackles later McShane managed to clear his line but was forced to drop out as they returned to twelve players.
With the clock showing just twelve seconds Lee Mossop managed to force the ball onto the ground despite the best efforts of the collective Castleford defence. Livett added the conversion from under the sticks and the game entered golden point.
It was now about who had the most composure.
Kevin Brown was the first to swing his boot but McShane charged down and regained posession for the Tigers. Castleford worked downfield and on the fourth play Gareth O'Brien slotted the ball between the posts to secure the win for the Tigers.
Thanks to fantastic defence the Tigers managed to get the win, despite reduced numbers on the field, and set up a semi-final with the Warrington Wolves. The Red Devils threw everything at Castleford but a couple of great efforts to prevent groundings frustrated them and secured the victory and crush their hopes of a return to Wembley.
Castleford Tigers: Evalds, Turner, Shenton (T), Mata’utia (T), Olpherts, Trueman, Richardson (G), Griffin, McShane, Massey, Holmes, Millington, Milner. Subs: Watts (SB on 72), Smith (T), Martin. O’Brien (G, SB on 65, DG).
Salford Red Devils: Sarginson, Sio, Watkins, Livett (2T, 3G), Williams, Lolohea, Brown, Mossop (T), Addy, Ikahihifo, Greenwood, Pauli, Taylor. Subs: Atkin, Ormondroyd, Lannon, Burke.
Full-Time: 18-18. Golden Point: 19-18.
Referee: Ben Thaler.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-6, 4-6, 6-6, 6-10, 6-12, 10-12, 12-12 : HT : 16-12, 18-12, 18-16, 18-18 : FT : 19-18 : Golden Point.