Games don´t get any bigger than the round twenty-six match between the Castleford Tigers and Salford Red Devils with the winners becoming favourites to make the play-offs, the losers looking increasingly unlikely to make it into the top six.
The sides came into the game level on points and in sixth and seventh, Salford with a massive points advantage. The winner would go up to fifth, before the Rhinos game against the Dragons in the evening kick-off. Nerves were jangling, there was plenty at stake.
The bookies had a slight favouring for the away side, giving the Tigers a two point start in the handicap coupon, and with Salford´s recent stunning record in their charge for the top six, who could blame them.
The sides were deadlocked early on, broken on five minutes by a forty metre Marc Sneyd penalty goal after a soft penalty was conceded by the Tigers. Within a minute Sneyd added a four pointer with a terrific flowing move downfield as the half back started and finished the move with the ball in hand, taking a Brodie Croft pass to run in the last twenty metres. Sneyd added the conversion for 8-0 with eight minutes on the clock.
On the kick-off return the Red Devils were devastating down the right wing with Kallum Watkins doing all the work and then putting Ken Sio free to complete from twenty metres out and round behind the sticks to give Sneyd a simple conversion for 14-0.
On twelve minutes Jack Ormondroyd span out of a tackle, threw an outrageous dummy, and sprinted under the sticks for the third Salford try in eight minutes. Sneyd added the conversion for a 20-0 lead.
The Tigers opened their account on eighteen to halt the one-way traffic with fast hands finding Jake Mamo who skipped through the opposition to go in from thirty metres. Danny Richardson added the conversion.
Just after the half hour mark the Tigers were in for their second after some mistakes from Salford. This time Derrell Olpherts took the pass and just managed to get the ball on the ground before stepping into touch. Richardson missed the extras, the Tigers having narrowed the deficit to ten points.
The half ended in a mass brawl and Sneyd attempted a sixty-metre penalty goal which fell ten metres short of the sticks, but it had been a half of two halves, Salford dominant early on, the Tigers coming back into the game as the half wore on.
The first points of the second half came from the boot of Sneyd after Liam Watts hit a player off the ball, Salford with a twelve-point advantage.
A seventy-metre break from Olpherts should have resulted in a try but great chasing back from Sneyd and Brierley saw him hauled down. But within two minutes it was Salford who were in with Shane Wright taking a Kallum Watkins pass on the inside to score from ten metres out. Sneyd added the conversion, and the lead was back up to eighteen points.
It was the Tigers turn to chase back a breakaway Ken Sio on fifty-four but a fast play the ball saw the ball moved across the field with Deon Cross going in down the left wing. Sneyd added the extras for 34-10, Salford easing their way into the play-offs, barring an extraordinary sequence of results in the coming days.
On fifty-eight Brodie Croft ripped his way through the broken Tigers defence to score from thirty-five metres out as the Tigers capitulated. Sneyd added the conversion as the Red Devils hit forty points.
With fifteen minutes left it was turning into a rout. Fast hands allowed Atkin to bust the Tigers line and find Watkins in support to sprint in. Sneyd was wide with his conversion, Salford one converted try away from the fifty.
It took until the seventy-seventh minute for the visitors to get it when Sneyd supported a break from Chris Atkin to come inside and score against a broken Tigers side. Sneyd added the goal himself for 50-10, the Tigers having being subjected to an absolute hammering.
Despite a blip in the last twenty minutes of the first half, this was a comensurate performance from a Salford Red Devils who have hit tremendous form at the right end of the seasons, striking fear into the other sides with hopes of visiting Old Trafford at the end of the season. While it is still mathematically possible for Castleford to enter the six, they need Leeds to lose against Castleford and to then beat the Rhinos next Saturday afternoon.
Castleford Tigers: Mamo (T), Olpherts (T), Fonua, Sutcliffe, Faraimo, Eden, Richardson (G), Massey, McShane, Griffin, Lawler, Mellor, Westerman. Subs: Watts, Matagi, Milner, Martin.
Salford Red Devils: Brierley, Sio (T), Cross (T), Lafai, Sarginson, Croft (T), Sneyd (2T, 7G), Ormondroyd (T), Ackers, Vuniyayawa, Taylor, Watkins (T), Wright (T). Subs: Atkin, Luckley, Gerrard, Dupree.
Score Progression: 0-2, 0-6, 0-8, 0-12, 0-14, 0-18, 0-20, 4-20, 6-20, 10-20 : HT : 10-22, 10-26, 10-28, 10-32, 10-34, 10-38, 10-40, 10-44, 10-48, 10-50 : FT.
Lead Exchanges: Salford.
Referee: Liam Moore.