Veteran hooker James Roby (centre) holds aloft the Challenge Cup trophy
Good things come to those who wait and for James Roby, the effervescent St Helens captain, they certainly did at an emotionally fraught, baking hot Wembley.
Saints had not won rugby league’s oldest and most famous trophy, the Challenge Cup, since 2008, with 35-year-old hooker Roby the only member of that team still at the club.
To put his remarkable longevity into context, talented youngster Jack Welsby, the hero of last season’s Grand Final who made another key contribution here, was just five when Roby won his first Challenge Cup in 2006.
That was the first of three successive final wins for Roby and Saints, with the last of those coming against Hull FC 13 years ago. Now the wait is finally over.
This was a classic encounter in which Roby – the Peter Pan of rugby league who is weighing up whether to play on for another season – played a typically pivotal role for his hometown club.
Castleford led 12-6 at half-time but Kristian Woolf’s side, back-to-back Super League champions in the past two seasons, proved their class in the second half.
Roby scored within two minutes of the restart and further tries from England winger Tommy Makinson and replacement prop Kyle Amor sealed St Helens’ 13th Challenge Cup overall.
A delighted Roby, who played the full 80 minutes, said: “It’s been a long time coming and it was a really tough game, especially with the heat, but fair play to the boys, we got the job done. We started the better but then the momentum swung and half-time probably came at a good time for us.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever be back here again. It’s very special for me to be captain of this team. There’s definitely more to come from us. We’ve got the trophy and hopefully we can keep building.”
Castleford’s last Challenge Cup success came in 1986 and they gradually wilted in the searing heat.
Woolf said: “James Roby was outstanding and, to be doing what he’s doing at his age, he certainly doesn’t look like slowing down at any stage.”
The result signalled more heartache for Daryl Powell, whose team had lost to Leeds in the 2014 Challenge Cup final.
The boyhood Tigers supporter, who will join Warrington at the end of the season, could not fault his players’ desire but admitted:“Roby’s try after half-time was a bit of a killer for us.
“I’m super proud of the players, but it didn’t quite happen. I thought Saints deserved to win and we weren’t quite good enough.”
Saints led in the 10th minute when Jonny Lomax’s last-tackle grubber rebounded off a post and fell kindly to Theo Fages to touch down.
Yet Castleford steadied themselves in highly impressive fashion and scored a beautifully executed try in the 16th minute.
Niall Evalds, whose outstanding display at full-back earned him the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match, broke inside the right channel and found centre Peter Mata’utia with a neat offload.
Mata’utia then sent a perfectly-weighted kick behind the St Helens defence for Evalds to race on to and score in scintillating style, despite the despairing dive of Lomax.
Castleford’s sea of supporters roared their delight and Gareth O’Brien’s conversion levelled matters at 6-6.
It came as no surprise when the Tigers claimed their second try in the 25th minute when a lofted kick was expertly fielded by stand-off Jake Trueman, who grounded the ball under the posts.
Referee Liam Moore again referred the score to video referee Chris Kendall to check for offside and it was duly confirmed as a legal try, which O’Brien converted to put Castleford 12-6 ahead.
What response could Saints muster in the second half?
Woolf’s players, as it turned out, came up with all the right answers, scoring within two minutes of the restart, albeit in controversial fashion.
A high kick from Lomax was spilled by Mark Percival in the left corner but went backwards and Regan Grace palmed the ball into the path of Roby, who scampered over the line. Moore awarded a try but it needed three minutes from video referee Kendall to finally approve it, with Lachlan Coote’s fine conversion levelling at 12-12.
In the 50th minute, Saints forged ahead when Welsby’s meticulous dart across the Castleford defence saw him find Kevin Naiqama, whose neat pass sent Makinson diving over in the right corner.
Castleford winger Derrell Olpherts went close at the opposite corner but was hauled into touch by Percival, who celebrated as if he had scored a try, which said much for how much was at stake.
Although Roby then kicked out on the full, Castleford could not capitalise and two more penalties from Coote’s trusty left boot saw Saints home before Amor barrelled over in the last minute.
Scores: 0-4 Fages try, 0-6 Coote con, 4-6 Evalds try, 6-6 O’Brien con, 10-6 Trueman try, 12-6 O’Brien con, 12-10 Roby try, 12-12 Coote con, 12-16 Makinson try, 12-18 Coote pen, 12-20 Coote pen, 12-24 Amortry, 12-26 Coote con.
Castleford: N Evalds; D Olpherts, P Mata’utia, M Shenton, J Turner; J Trueman,G O’Brien; G Griffin, P McShane, G Millington, O Holmes, JSene-Lefao, N Massey.
Interchange: L Watts, A Milner, A Foster, D Smith.
St Helens: L Coote; T Makinson, K Naiqama, M Percival, R Grace; J Lomax; T Fages; A Walmsley, J Roby, L McCarthy-Scarsbrook, J Thompson, J Batchelor, M Knowles.
Interchange: M Lees, K Amor, A Paasi, J Welsby.
Referee: Liam Moore.