In the first of the Super League playoff eliminators to determine who would progress to the semi finals to play either Wigan or St Helens, Warrington Wolves always seemed to be in control against Challenge Cup runners up Castleford Tigers on Thursday evening. The final scoreline of 30-14 was probably a fair reflection of their dominance, despite Cas having the home advantage at the 'Jungle', but the Tigers can still look back on a solid season.
The play offs constantly offer the conundrum of whether it is better to have the week off through a higher league finish and hence effectively bypass a round of eliminators or to play more regularly and gain momentum. The Wolves seemed to demonstrate the latter as, following on from a hard fought battle to overcome Widnes in their last eliminator, they seem to be finding good form and will be a threat in the semis. By contrast, Cas made a number of errors in the first half that turned the ball over to their opponents, perhaps finally feeling the effects of their season's efforts despite not playing last week. Even so, it was a marked improvement from their 41-0 defeat at the hands of St Helens in their first play off tie, as it was only really in the later stages of the second half that they lost touch in this match.
Warrington took an early lead on four minutes, when Jamie Ellis' kick was charged down and centre Ryan Atkins gratefully pounced on the rebound to go over for the try. Ellis made amends 20 minutes later when he launched a high kick towards the corner which was neatly patted back and fell nicely for him to score a try of his own and reduce the arrears. The conversion was missed to leave the Wolves two points ahead.
It didn't take long for the Cheshire side to extend their lead once more though, as they developed an overlap on 27 minutes for Joel Monaghan to score in the corner. The missed conversion ensured that Warrington went into half time 10-4 ahead.
The lead was extended to eight points after the break, when Stefan Ratchford's penalty ensured they moved two scores clear and it could have been more minutes later as Roy Asotasi just failed to go over.
The Tigers needed a quick response after that to get back into the match and it duly came when Luke Dorn went through a gap in the Wolves' defence for a try that Sneyd converted.
Just as it seemed that the momentum was swinging Cas' way, Warrington found an extra gear as firstly the influential Ratchford set Richie Myler clear with Gareth O'Brien on hand to touch down. Then minutes later the tie was over as winger Rhys Evans scooped up Ratchford's pass for another try to the Wolves.
His opposite wing, Monaghan, was not to be outdone and added his second try to add extra gloss to the score but they ended the game a man down when Evans was sin-binned for a professional foul. As a result, Castleford roused themselves to ensure that they had the final word on the night as skipper Michael Shenton went over for what was merely a consolation try.
finishing on the losing side Cas' Daryl Clark will no doubt be keeping an eye on Warrington's subsequent progress in the playoffs, as he joins them next season and a place in the Grand Final for them could give him the experience of playing in February's World Club Series.
Friday will see Huddersfield Giants entertain Catalan Dragons, the conquerors of Challenge Cup winners Leeds in the last round of eliminator play offs. #Rugby