Pictures Eddie Whitham
WARRINGTON Wolves’ season is over after they crashed to a 14-12 play-off defeat at home to Castleford.
Their eighth defeat in nine matches means no return to Old Trafford and the club’s long wait for a league championship goes on.
Peter Matautia’s second half penalty proved the difference as Warrington just couldn’t find enough to get on top of the Tigers, who go on to face Wigan or Salford next weekend.
Wolves hopes rested on the shoulders of Man of Steel nominee Blake Austin, who missed the Wembley win through injury, but he wasn’t at the races and was forced off at half time after being on the receiving end of two crunching hits from the stern Tigers defence.
Castleford led 6-0 when Paul McShane’s dabbed kick close to the line was pounced upon by Adam Milner, and it was a lead they carried to half time.
The Wolves came out of the blocks firing at the start of the second half and ironically it was the forced introduction of Jake Mamo, for the stricken Austin, that prompted the early break through.
With Stefan Ratchford having moved to the halves, Mamo was the runner out the back to pick up Dec Patton’s pass and he proved too slippery for the Castleford defence to keep out.
Ratchford converted beautifully from the touchline to tie the game.
Warrington were getting little joy out of a brutal Castleford defence, which kept runaway league leaders St Helens to just four points two weeks ago, and tensions grew.
The pendulum swung in the visitors’ favour though when they created space on the right for Jordan Rankin to slide over, the conversion restoring their six point lead.
The Tigers had all the answers to Warrington’s questions and as the game entered the final 15 minutes, just as it looked like Castleford were setting the platform for a drop goal attempt, Mike Cooper was penalised for a ball steal which enabled the Tigers to stretch their lead to 14-6.
The resulting short kick off was recovered by Ratchford and enabled Warrington to finally get that second try, somewhat fortuitously after Daryl Clark’s kick ricocheted off a defender and in to the path of a gleeful Chris Hill.
Ratchford converted, though crucially he would miss a long range penalty from just inside his own half with little over five minutes to go, which would have tied the scores.
They couldn’t find the breakthrough and gone was their season and with it, coach Steve Price’s record of reaching every final since his arrival in the UK.