SKIPPER KEVIN SINFIELD was sensationally sent-off as Leeds Rhinos and Castleford Tigers battled to this thrilling draw at Headingley Carnegie.
Sinfield saw red for the first time in his long career with seven minutes left, for butting Tigers’ Luke Dorn.
Rhinos led 24-18 at that stage, but three successive penalties – one for the incident which led to the butt and then two immediately afterwards – allowed Castleford to mount an attack which led to an equalising converted try with six minutes left.
Both teams failed with drop goal attempts after that, but a draw – which lifted Leeds into top spot on the table – was a fair result.
It was fast, frantic and hugely entertaining, but with at least as many spills as thrills.
For two of the top teams in the competition, both sides made an alarming number of errors and hearts seemed to be ruling heads at times.
But it was compelling from first minute to last and after so many one-sided encounters between these sides at Headingley in recent seasons, this was much more like what a West Yorkshire derby should be all about.
The action swung from end to end with both teams having spells on top.
The big two in the middle, Andy Lynch and Craig Huby, were strong for Tigers and Luke Dorn was a constant threat to Leeds with his broken-field running, while Carl Ablett had an outstanding game in Rhinos’ pack.
After a 59-minute wait for the first points in Rhinos’ previous home game – the win over Hull KR six days earlier – the deadlock this time was broken after 65 seconds.
Jamie Peacock lost possession in the first set close to his own line and on the final tackle Marc Sneyd kicked to the corner, Tom Briscoe and Justin Carney competed for the ball, which went loose allowing Michael Shenton to pick up and go over.
Video referees Phil Bentham and Steve Ganson had a long look and though there was contact between the two wingers, they presumably decided it was an even contest for the ball and the try was given and converted by Sneyd.
On five minutes Paul Aiton crossed at the other end, but this time the decision was no try, knock-on by Danny McGuire.
A poor kick at the end of the resulting set was returned by Hardaker setting up field position for McGuire to kick to the right flank. This time Briscoe – who had his best game for a while – beat Carney to make a clean catch and Sinfield’s goal levelled the scores.
Zak Hardaker – after his five-match ban – was the high-profile returnee for Rhinos, but Kylie Leuluai was also back in the starting line-up, with Ryan Bailey recalled on the bench.
On 15 minutes Bailey was introduced for Leuluai and he scored with his first touch. Sinfield’s kick was taken by Hall, who played a one-two with Moon.
Dorn made a fine tackle on Hall, but that opened up a gap which Bailey sailed through. Sinfield added the extras, but Carl Ablett knocked-on in the set from the re-start and Tigers took advantage to square things again.
Sneyd, Dorn and Weller Hauraki worked the ball to Dixon, who cut infield, brushed off McGuire and supplied Hauraki, who crashed over for a try converted by Sneyd.
Former Rhinos forward Hauraki was recalled in Tigers’ second-row and Dorn returned at full-back, with Sneyd switching into the halves. Jamie Ellis and Scott Wheeldon dropped out from the previous game’s team.
Sneyd got over the line moments later, after Tigers had incorrectly been awarded a penalty near their own line, but after a long look the video referees eventually got around to checking the grounding and it was immediately obvious he had dropped the ball.
Leeds got a penalty in the next set for a high shot on Rob Burrow, which was much-needed at that stage.
McGuire’s long pass found Ablett and he got past Liam Finn and Hauraki and then over the top of Dorn.
At first sight it looked like he had been held up, but the video referees were called into action yet again and ruled he had lost the ball, regathered off his own leg and then touched down. Sinfield’s goal restored Leeds’ lead
Tigers relied on Leeds’ errors and penalties to gain ground in the first half and the latter led to their latest equalising score, six minutes before the break.
Rhinos’ defence went to sleep from a quick play-the-ball and Nathan Massey, who had just come on, nipped over, for Sneyd to convert.
In the final seconds of the half Hall tried to force his way over from acting-half on the last, but was held up by Dixon, Finn, Jake Webster and Hauraki.
Tigers thought they had gone ahead seven minutes after the break when Carney stormed over from Shenton’s pass, but Thaler handed the decision on and the video refs ruled it out for that blight on the modern game, obstruction.
Leeds had a spell on top after that, going close at the corner three times and Leuluai – who had a big game – being held up over the line.
Tigers had a chance when Shenton kicked behind the line, Hardaker missed it, but Grant Millington couldn’t make the take. In the next set Moon’s kick rebounded off a defender, Ablett side-footed the ball on and then followed up to touch down just before it went dead.
The video refs gave the green light and Sinfield converted to edge Leeds six ahead going into the final quarter.
Sneyd’s tackle on Hardaker with 12 minutes left kept Cas in the game, then Lee Jewitt charged down Sinfield’s drop goal attempt.
The flurry of penalties around the red card, one of which was a poor decision, led to Millington going over from Jewitt’s pass and Sneyd converted.
Rhinos had a chance to set for a late drop goal, but the ball went to Peacock and his kick was off target, then Sneyd had a go, but McGuire charged it down.
Josh Walters, Liam Sutcliffe and Robbie Mulhern were the players who dropped out of the Leeds team from the previous game and all three played for Rhinos under-19s in the academy curtain-raiser. Walters and former Tigers player Brad England both scored a hat-trick in Rhinos’ 68-10 win. Other try scorers for Leeds were Elliot Minchella, Dan Grange, Jordan Harper, Dan Tai, George Milton and Tommy Brierley.
Brandon Pickup and Connor Hick scored Tigers’ tries and Jordan Howden kicked a goal.
Rhinos gave a debut to French trialist winger Fouad Yaha, from Avignon, but his evening ended in agony as he was taken to hospital after suffering a dislocated shoulder in the first half.