Salford's second match of the Super 8s was made even more significant with Wakefield thumping Leeds 38-6 on Thursday to leapfrog the Red Devils into fourth place. Salford would start the night in sixth.
Visitors Castleford have been outstanding this year and a real model of consistency, with just three defeats in the regular season, the first coming at the AJ Bell Stadium back in March. Now, with five defeats on the spin, Ian Watson and the boys were desperate for a victory to kick start the season and maintain the top four aspirations.
The match didn't start off well, with Tyrone McCarthy pulling up in the warm up being replaced by Craig Kopzack, and the Tigers awarded a penalty after just twenty seconds.
Six minutes in Salford were denied a try for a forward pass and then, on the next set, great work from Paul McShane at dummy half sent Zak Hardacker over. Luke Gale added the goal. Salford 0 Castleford 6.
Salford started to find their feet and keep the ball alive, brilliantly moving across the field. Jake Bibby put in a clever kick to force a drop out, and on the next set Manu Vatuvei went over in the corner, only for the try to be ruled out very harshly by the video referee for obstruction.
Hardacker grabbed his second try in the 27th minute for the Tigers, racing over from a flat pass to scorch under the posts. Gale's goal made it 0-12. On the next set Gale kicked a 40-20 but some good solid defence from Salford forced the Tigers into a mistake. Half time 0-12.
The Red Devil's were desperate for points, hanging on to the coat tails of the league leaders, and five minutes into the second half the video referee was called into action as Vatuvei pounced on a neat kick just before the dead ball line. The try was awarded but Todd Carney couldn't convert: 4-12.
Salford upped the intensity, asking real questions of the Tigers' defence but Castleford are battle hardened in that department and came up with the answers. Another huge call went against Salford when Ryan Lannon was denied a try for a forward pass.
The pressure continued to build with both Kopzack and Lannon held up over the line. Just over twenty minutes remained when a real sucker punch try put the game further out of Salford's reach, McShane throwing an outrageous dummy to charge over for a well deserved try. Gale's goal nudged the Tigers to 4-18.
Castleford then worked some magic, with the lively Hardacker breaking through, finding Gale in support, whose huge pass out to the wing put Jy Hitchcox over to seal the match. Gale missed the kick: 4-22. Five minutes from time, the busy Gale dropped a goal to complete the scoring: Salford 4 Castleford 23
It was a night where Salford had quite a few chances and were also on the end of some tough calls from the official. Castleford were pretty clinical with the ball and solid in defence.
Ian Watson was focusing on the positives after the match...another excellent display from new signing Manu Vatuvei.
Salford travel to Wigan next Friday for what looks another very difficult match. This Super 8 competition is certainly starting to hot up, with the Red Devils needing a win to keep their top four dreams alive.
Report by Paul Whiteside
Devil in the detail.
Photos by Gareth Lyons