A NIGHTMARE final quarter shattered Huddersfield Giants' Super League play-off dream.
Everything was going according to plan for the first hour of last night's Giants' crunch clash at Castleford.
Although the visitors had conceded an early second-half try which enabled the Tigers to pull back to 12-12, Huddersfield appeared to be gaining the upper hand.
By the 56th minute they had twice forced Castleford to drop out from under their own posts and Paul Reilly had been held up over the line, giving the Giants a scrum deep inside their opponents' territory.
Huddersfield were definitely on top.
Yet despite the pressure, they were unable to find a way through the Tigers defence and the scene was set for a Huddersfield horror show of epic proportions.
The massive tale of woe included the gifting of one try, the cruel concession of another, the sending off of prop Jim Gannon and injuries suffered by Stanley Gene, Steve McNamara and Hefin O'Hare.
Fortunately, O'Hare was able to come back onto the field for the closing moments, but the outlook doesn't look quite so good for Gene and McNamara.
Gene, in particular, is a major concern and was due to be checked out today to see if he has suffered a fractured cheekbone following an accidental clash of heads.
And McNamara looked in all sorts of trouble after being helped off the field in some discomfort with a shoulder injury.
There was a little light relief in the closing moments when Eorl Crabtree used all his strength to wrestle his way out of a clutch of Castleford defenders to plunge over for a 77th-minute try, converted by Jamie Bloem.
But that couldn't take away the obvious disappointment felt by the Giants after they had watched their earlier advantage slip away.
In a match that was far from being a classic, the Giants dug deep at the start of the contest and were a constant source of frustration to their opponents.
After conceding a sixth-minute penalty to Mitch Healey, the visitors began to rise to the challenge.
Within two minutes Bloem had levelled the scores with a penalty of his own and then kicked his side ahead with a second success after 13 minutes.
And it took the most fortunate of tries for the Tigers to regain the lead.
A kick ahead by Healey bounced the worst possible way for the desperately unlucky Paul Reilly and Damian Gibson was on hand to pounce and race over for a 26th-minute try, converted by Healey.
However, there was nothing fortunate about Huddersfield's immediate response.
The magnificent Ben Roarty made it all possible, pulling off a blockbusting tackle on Ryan Hudson to force the ball free.
That set the Giants up for an attack on the Tigers' line, and when McNamara kicked to the corner, Bloem was on hand to knock the ball back to Roarty who slung the ball out to O'Hare to dive in at the corner.
McNamara was unable to land the difficult conversion, but followed up with two penalties in the final six minutes to give his side a deserved 12-8 interval advantage.
The sides were level within three minutes of the restart as Waine Pryce finished off an excellent move with a try in the corner - and that was to prove a taste of Giants' frustrations to come.
Despite good pressure on the Castleford line, the visitors were unable to come up trumps and then just before the hour Gene was forced to leave the field with his facial injury.
With the Giants' major strike weapon off the field, Castleford took their chance and in the 61st minute had taken a lead they were never to lose.
A Healey kick to the corner looked innocuous enough, but inexplicably Marcus St Hilaire completely missed the ball in his attempt to kick it dead and a grateful Pryce eagerly pounced for the absolute gift of four points.
Six minutes later it was even worse as Gannon was red-carded for a high shot on Nathan Sykes and Craig Huby banged over the penalty.
The restart then went straight into touch and Huby followed up seconds later with another penalty.
Suddenly it was 20-12.
But then came the killer blow as O'Hare was outnumbered three to one in attempting to gather a high kick to the corner and Hudson sent Michael Eagar racing in for a converted try.
O'Hare was injured in the process and McNamara was taken off moments later before Crabtree crashed over for the consolation effort.
Giants: Reilly, O'Hare, Bailey, Bloem, St Hilaire, Gene, March, Fleary, Turner, Gannon, Morrison, Roarty, O'Doherty; McNamara, Crabtree, Cooper, Slicker
Tigers: Saxton, Pryce, Gibson, Eagar, Rogers, Maloney, Healey, Sykes, Godwin, Lynch, Mellor, Fritz, Hudson; Johnson, Smith, Huby, Orr
KEY MAN: BEN ROARTY
THE Australian back-rower was superb in last week's win over Wakefield, and was an even more impressive performer in last night's match.
WITH the sides locked at 12-12 in the 61st minute, Marcus St Hilaire totally missed a Castleford kick to the corner to give Waine Pryce a gift try and swing the balance firmly in the Tigers' favour.
Castleford. Tries: Gibson (26mins), Pryce (47mins & 61mins), Eagar (71mins). Goals: Healey 2 from 3, Huby 3 from 3, Orr 0 from 1.
Huddersfield. Tries:O'Hare (29mins), Crabtree (77mins). Goals: Bloem 4 from 4, McNamara 1 from 2.
Dismissal: Gannon (67mins, high tackle).
Referee: Karl Kirkpatrick (Warrington).
Scrums won: Tigers 4, Giants 7.
Pens conceded: Tigers 9, Giants 9.