Castleford 36 Wigan 22

Wigan Warriors' Josh Charnley is tackled by Castleford Tigers' Paul McShane
Wigan Warriors' Josh Charnley is tackled by Castleford Tigers' Paul McShane

Wigan lost ground on leaders Hull FC after a frustrating defeat at Castleford.

Two tries in as many minutes had cut Castleford’s lead to 26-22 and threatened a late, great escape of a game they never dominated.

But Ryan Hampshire - on loan from Wigan - crossed in the corner to settle the game, before Oliver Holmes put the crowning glory on the Tigers’ win.

After a composed and confident display against Wakefield a week earlier, the Warriors relapsed.

On such a short pitch, the damaging effect of penalties was amplified, and Wigan frequently found themselves pegged back into their own half.

They didn’t make many errors with the ball, but they lacked the energy and creative spark to hurt the Tigers and only showed their quality in brief flashes.

This defeat leaves them two points behind leaders Hull FC, and they may slide to third if Warrington beat Wakefield on Sunday.

Denny Solomona finished with a hat-trick, which stretched his lead at the top of the try-scoring charts to 31.

All his tries were scored down the wing where Dom Manfredi would have been had he not left the action early through injury.

Castleford, who have faint-hopes of reaching the play-offs, are often lauded for their strong home form but they had won just one of their past seven games at the fabulously-named Mend a Hose Jungle.

As expected, Liam Farrell and Anthony Gelling returned from injury lay-offs but the Warriors suffered a blow with captain Sean O’Loughlin missing from the side.

Wigan had beaten Castleford three times already this season - twice in Super League and in the Challenge Cup.

In the build-up to this Super-8s showdown, Castleford coach Daryl Powell stoked the flames by suggesting his players were motivated by the Warriors’ ‘arrogance’.

And that certainly seemed the case as they started the brighter of the two sides.

Wigan were forced into an early change after Rangi Chase, back in Super League after an aborted spell at Leigh, floored Manfredi with an unforgiving hit which left the winger dazed.

Farrell came off the bench and, in the backline reshuffle, John Bateman slotted in to centre and Anthony Gelling to the wing.

That area was immediately targeted by the Tigers, to good effect, as Luke Dorn chimed into the line and fed Solomona, who arced around Gelling and over for the game’s first try.

Luke Gale missed the conversion, but booted a penalty minutes later after Dom Crosby was penalised for a high tackle on Andre Savelio.

Wigan improved enough to reach Castleford’s line, but Josh Charnley was held up and then - on the other flank - Gelling was forced into touch after Sam Tomkins had carved open a chance.

Shaun Wane made a triple-substitution, bringing on the wrecking ball Frank Paul Nuuausala, Taulima Tautai and Lee Mossop.

Tautai showed the best and worst of his form - eating up metres with a rampaging charge, and then immediately conceding a penalty.

And while it didn’t immediately prove damaging, it typified Wigan’s failure to build pressure.

Castleford, at this stage, were full of life and energy, angles and offloads, and extended their lead in the 27th minute when - from close range - Paul McShane darted at the defence and squeezed over. Gale’s conversion made it 12-0.

The Tigers have the second-leakiest defence of the eight sides in the top Super-8s tier but Wigan found it hard to break down.

Eventually, a series of strong individual efforts, Dan Sarginson and Tautai among those making inroads, put them in position to open their account.

Matty Smith - linked with a move to St Helens for 2017 - raced towards the line before Sam Powell pounced on his speculative offload. Smith’s conversion cut Cas’ lead to 12-6.

A wayward pass by Williams again put Wigan under pressure, and Wigan’s players were getting frustrated with their own shortcomings.

Referee Joe Cobbs even called time off to have a word with Sam Tomkins, presumably to warn him against passing comment on his decisions, though he was acting-captain in O’Loughlin’s absence.

Twice in the early exchanges of the second-half he refused to listen to Tomkins’ protests, by which point Castleford had extended their lead to 18-6 after Solomona had out-leaped Gelling to reach Gale’s high-kick.

Wigan quickly cut the deficit to six points, Flower storming over with his first touch since replacing Mossop, and Smith adding the goal.

But an error from the resulting kick-off put them under immediate pressure, and their defence caved under a heavy onslaught, Solomona with a trademark spectacular dive in the corner to seal his hat-trick. Gale hit the conversion from the sideline to re-open up a 12 point gap.

Crosby and Oliver Holmes were both sinbinned for a scuffle, and Castleford were awarded the penalty which let Gale boot a 14-point lead.

Remarkably, that’s when Wigan eased through the gears to score two tries in as many minutes. First, Bateman dashed over in the 63rd minute to reel in that lead to 10 points. And then the England international burst down the middle, and twisted in the tackle to feed Mossop. With Smith hitting the conversion, it made the score 26-22 with 10 minutes to go and offered hope of a dramatic finish.

But Hampshire put the game beyond Wigan’s grasp, even if there was doubts about his grounding in the corner, before Holmes added the crowning glory.

Castleford: Dorn; Hampshire, Crooks, Minikin, Solomona; Chase, Gale; Springer, Milner, Patrick, Holmes, Savelio, Moors. Subs: Jewitt, McShane, Cook, Millington.

Wigan: Tomkins; Charnley, Gelling, Sarginson, Manfredi; Williams, Smith; Crosby, Powell, Flower, Bateman, Isa, Sutton. Subs: Farrell, Mossop, Tautai, Nuuausala.

Referee: Joe Cobb

Half-time: 12-6

Attendance: 6,325

Wigan starman: John Bateman