Fired-up Castleford Tigers ended an eight-game losing run as they stunned Leeds Rhinos 14-12 at Wish Communications Stadium.
Tigers left it late, Jamie Ellis levelling the scores with a penalty goal with three minutes remaining and then winning it through a similar effort in the final seconds.
For Cas to win they needed to play particularly well and also hope Rhinos suffered an off day. That’s exactly what happened.
Rhinos were handicapped by several injuries, to Brett Delaney, Ryan Bailey and Zak Hardaker, but still had the personnel out there to do a job.
They weren’t good enough though and Cas were deserved winners, to end a run of eight successive Super League defeats.
Cas out-enthused the visitors and seemed to catch them by surprise. If they had been smarter, Leeds could have closed the game out, but they shot themselves in the foot with a succession of errors, initially near Tigers’ line and then coming out from their own end.
Tigers were the better team in the first half and could have been further than 10-6 in front at the break, despite the weight of pressure being against them.
Leeds applied the majority of the second-half pressure, but magnificent defence kept them at bay for most of it and as Leeds ran out of steam they took full advantage. Ultimately, Cas won because they made fewer mistakes.
Both teams were heavily penalised (the count finished 12-11 in Cas’ favour), but Tigers did a better job of handling the conditions in a game which saw both sides defend well.
Leeds put a lot of ball down – with some very basic errors – and they tried to force too many passes. Their decision-making wasn’t up to scratch.
Crucially, Rangi Chase was back to something like his best and he was Cas’ biggest threat, though the entire pack stood up in what was a brilliant team effort.
Tigers turned down two kickable penalties in the opening moments, after Rob Burrow knocked on following Jake Webster’s charge-down of a Sinfield kick.
A couple of Leeds touches also twice restarted the tackle count and the pressure paid off when Chase slid a kick through a static defence and Jordan Tansey was the only one to react, the full-back marking his home debut with a try against his former club.
At the other end, Ellis got underneath Jamie Jones-Buchanan to hold him up over the line from Burrow’s pass after Leeds also tapped a penalty in front of the sticks.
Jonathan Walker was also involved in the tackle, the prop starting in place of Keith Mason, with Jordan Thompson coming into Tigers’ side on the bench.
Rhinos’ only change saw Jimmy Keinhorst come in for injured winger Joe Vickery.
Cas withstood some ferocious pressure on their line after the early try, but a smart try opened them up from distance after 12.
Danny McGuire made a half-break and slipped the ball to Joel Moon, who appeared to have taken the wrong option when he returned the pass, but the No 6 just had the pace to get over.
Rhinos looked to be getting a grip of the game, but they created just one more chance in the half and were caught just four minutes after McGuire’s try by a sucker punch.
Weller Hauraki – playing against his former team-mates for the first time – did really well to intercept a Burrow pass.
He gave Ellis a run and though Kevin Sinfield made the try-saving tackle an alert Chase was too quick for Rhinos, sending Jake Webster in, though Ellis could not convert.
Tigers – after a debate – opted to tap another kickable penalty on the half hour and then Chase failed to spot a gap on Rhinos’ left with Jones-Buchanan down injured.
Leeds’ only opportunity after their touchdown came when they moved the ball right and Kallum Watkins’ pass – which was forward anyway – was dropped by Keinhorst.
Like anyone, if you give a referee a new toy they’ll want to play with it. Team warnings aren’t new, but the way they are signalled is.
Predictably, both teams were placed on a warning for persistent infringements and when Cas conceded the next penalty – their sixth in succession either side of the interval – Nathan Massey was yellow carded.
Immediately Ryan Hall forced his way over from McGuire’s pass and Sinfield converted for the second time, off the touchline.
Rhinos should have gone further in front, but Mitch Achurch lost the ball trying to offload almost on the Cas line early in the count. He did something similar soon afterwards. Achurch has a good offload, but he needs to know when to use it.
A possible late challenge on Chris Clarkson led to a skirmish which was placed on report, but Cas didn’t get their first penalty of the half until the 70th minute.
Ellis sent his kick at goal well wide, then Cas failed to make the most of a 40-20 kick from Chase.
With two minutes left Cas got back-to-back penalties, the second in kicking range and this time Ellis found the target.
After that Leeds turned the ball over in their own 20 several times. Oliver Holmes went close, Tansey – who had a fine game – missed with a drop goal and then Ian Kirke turned the ball over, Achurch was caught offside and Ellis kicked the winner.
The penalty was the right call and referee Tim Roby kept his nerve by awarding it.
It’s now less than two weeks to the World Club Challenge and Rhinos were given a wake-up call, while the injuries will also be a worry.
The champions allowed themselves to get rattled and they were penalised for dissent in the first half after objecting to a forward pass call.
Sinfield also, uncharacteristically, failed to find touch with a penalty, letting Cas off the hook when they were a man down.
Hall finished the game at full-back after Hardaker went off concussed following a shoulder charge by Chase.
Castleford Tigers: Tansey, Owen, Shenton, Webster, Carney, Owen, Chase, Ellis, Walker, Milner, Huby, Gilmour, Hauraki, Holmes. Subs (all used): Clark, Millington, Massey, Thompson.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker, Keinhorst, Watkins, Moon, Hall, Sinfield, McGuire, Bailey, Burrow, Peacock, Delaney, Ablett, Jones-Buchanan. Subs (all used): McShane, Kirke, Clarkson, Achurch.