Zak Hardaker helps Tigers roar to victory at Salford

Castleford have one hand on the League Leader's Shield after Zak Hardaker inspired them to a vital 23-4 victory over Salford at the AJ Bell Stadium.

Zak Hardaker inspired Castleford to victory at Salford
Zak Hardaker inspired Castleford to victory at Salford

Full-back Hardaker scored two first-half tries for the Tigers and set up another after the break as they took full advantage of Leeds losing at Wakefield on Thursday to open up a commanding 10-point lead at the top of Betfred Super League.

Before the game Salford remembered one of their all-time greatest players Chris Hesketh, who died on Thursday, with an impeccably observed minute's silence.

The centre made 452 appearances for the club, scoring 128 tries and helping them to two Championship titles and a Lancashire Cup. He also represented Lancashire and Great Britain during an outstanding career.

Salford, who have now lost eight of their last nine league games, had Kiwi winger Manu Vatuvei making his home debut but their plans were disrupted by an injury to recent signing Tyrone McCarthy during the pre-match warm-up. Craig Kopczak was a late replacement.

Red Devils second rower Ryan Lannon saw a try disallowed by the video referee in the sixth minute but it was the visitors who broke the deadlock moments later as Hardaker followed up a break by Castleford hooker Paul McShane to race under the posts. Luke Gale added the conversion.

Both teams had tries disallowed by the video referee before Hardaker got his second in the 26th minute. He cut infield to finish off a superb break from Tigers winger Jy Hitchcox and Gale again kicked the extras.

Salford were the first team to beat Castleford this season, winning 13-12 back in March, and they hauled themselves back into the game three minutes into the second half.

Vatuvei had to be at full stretch to ground Todd Carney's kick to the in-goal area. However, Carney could not add the conversion.

The try signalled Salford's best spell of the game but they were denied by some desperate last-ditch defending from Castleford who, perhaps inevitably, were the next team to score.

The busy McShane ghosted over from dummy half in the 59th minute and Gale's conversion made it 18-4 to the league leaders.

Castleford, on their way to their 13th win from their last 14 Super League games, added a fourth try 16 minutes from the end to rubber-stamp victory.

Hardaker broke dangerously through the middle of the field and the move was continued by Gale before the former took matters into his own hands again with a huge pass to the left wing where Hitchcox was able to slide in for the try.

There was no goal from Gale this time but he did add a drop goal with five minutes remaining to make it 23-4.