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Narrow win for Bradford Salem at resurgent Castleford
Castleford 26, Bradford Salem 29
Bradford Salem secured a hard-fought victory over a committed Castleford side in SSE Yorkshire Division Two at Willowbridge Lane.
Despite being stranded at the foot of the table, Castleford's performances have noticeably improved since the new year following the return of some key players.
Salem were conscious that the home side would be a totally different proposition to the one they beat 53-20 at Shay Lane in early October, and their fears appeared justified as Castleford took a ten-point lead after withstanding early pressure from the visitors.
The Bradford pack, however, soon had the edge in the scrums, with stalwart hooker Simon Markey repeated winning ball against the head.
And it was Markey who got Salem back into the game as he forced his way over from close range for a try improved by full back Danny Belcher to reduce the arrears to 10-7.
Castleford hit back with a penalty from full back Ian Mattison but with a half-time scoreline of 13-7, Salem coach Phil Nilsen was confident that his charges would turn things round in the second half.
Salem struck first when winger Danny Thomas strolled over for a fine try after some good handling in the backs, Belcher adding the extras to put the visitors in front for the first time at 14-13.
The lead, however, was short-lived as Mattison kicked his second penalty to put the hosts 16-14 ahead.
Salem regained the lead at 17-16, courtesy of a Belcher penalty, but at this stage it was clear that the visitors were becoming increasingly dominant in the set-pieces.
After referee Liam Taylor had penalised the Cas pack for collapsing three successive five-metre scrummages, he had no alternative but to award the Heaton outfit a penalty try, which put them 24-16 in frront.
Salem were now in the ascendancy and an excellent break from fly half Andy Robinson was supported by centre Sam Gardner, who sent Thomas racing over for his second try to put the visitors into a seemingly unassailable 29-16 lead.
To their credit, Castleford had other ideas, and in the final ten minutes they threw caution to the wind.
Their enterprise was rewarded as they outflanked the Salem defence to score two excellent tries to get within three points.
Salem were hanging on by a thread as the final whistle blew and they were mightily releived to run out 29-26 victors. On this showing, Castleford will most definitely cause some upsets in the run-in.