THERE WERE jubilant and emotional scenes at the Jungle last night when Castleford Tigers were crowned league leaders for the first time in their 91-year history as a senior club.
The shield was presented after a brilliant four-try haul from Jake Webster inspired a 45-20 win over Wakefield Trinity.
It is the first major silverware won by Tigers since the Regal Trophy in 1994.
Cas did not have it all their own way.
They looked jittery at the start and Wakefield took advantage to go ahead early, level the scores in the opening quarter and hit back to trail by only two in the second half.
Wakefield were more competitive than the scoreline suggests, but it was Tigers’ night.
They have made remarkable progress since Daryl Powell took over as coach four years ago and have been head and shoulders above any other Super League team this year.
The real business is yet to be done, but Tigers deserved their celebration.
Michael Shenton lifted the trophy, 11 years after being a member of the Cas team relegated after losing at Wakefield.
Tigers made a very nervous start. Greg Minikin spilled Jacob Miller’s kick at the end of the first set and though it went backwards, Webster knocked-on. Moments later Luke Gale tackled Max Jowitt – surprisingly called up at full-back in place of Scott Grix – around the head.
Liam Finn took the two, but Cas went ahead the first time they got over halfway, on nine minutes.
Ben Jones-Bishop made a terrific tackle on Michael Shenton, who returned after a back injury, but was penalised for interference and from that Zak Hardaker darted over off Ben Roberts’ pass after Paul McShane and Grant Millington had handled.
Gale landed the first of his six conversions, but Cas were level soon afterwards.
Minikin failed to deal with Finn’s kick and in the resulting set Jones-Bishop went over from Reece Lyne’s smart pass.
Parity did not last long. Mike McMeeken did well to stretch over from a pass by McShane, but the hooker deserved all the credit for stealing the ball back immediately after Webster had lost it near Trinity’s line.
Referee James Child indicated no try, but video assistant Phil Bentham gave it.
The next touchdown summed up the way Tigers play their rugby. The ball was moved right, Roberts’ pass found Hardaker and he broke the line before off-loading to Webster.
To their credit, after being under the cosh for a long spell Trinity responded with tries either side of the interval.
Mason Caton-Brown caught the defence napping by going down the blind side from acting-half to make it 18-10 at the break and then Danny Kirmond crossed from a clever pass by Finn, who converted.
But back-to-back tries, almost immediately, turned the game decisively Tigers’ way.
Gale’s looping pass sent Greg Eden – back from a shoulder injury – over for the 35th time in league action this year, Jowitt’s restart went out on the full and in the next set Webster scored his second after Hardaker’s pass was deflected by Bill Tupou. The matter was put beyond doubt soon after the hour when Webster completed his hat-trick, Gale converting and then adding a drop goal.
Webster added a fourth try from McMeeken’s off-load and though Jowitt pulled a try back – created by Tupou who had signed a new three-year contract earlier in the day – Castleford completed a memorable night when Roberts carved out the final try for Hardaker.
Castleford Tigers: Hardaker, Minikin, Webster, Shenton, Eden, Roberts, Gale, Millington, McShane, Sene-Lefao, O Holmes, McMeeken, Massey. Subs Lynch, Milner, Moors, Foster.
Wakefield Trinity: Jowitt, Jones-Bishop, Lyne, Caton-Brown, Tupou, Miller, Finn, Fifita, Hadley, England, Ashurst, Kirmond, Arona. Subs Williams, Huby, Annakin, Hirst.
Referee: James Child (Batley).