WORLD’S best winger Ryan Hall scored a hat-trick and hot prospect Liam Hood grabbed a debut touchdown as Leeds Rhinos survived a scare to win 36-14 at Castleford Tigers.
For half an hour it looked like a walk in the park for Leeds, who cruised into an 18-0 lead.
After that Leeds got sloppy and Cas showed tremendous spirit to stun the world and Super League champions.
Sparked up by replacement hooker Daryl Clark, some inventiveness from halves Rangi Chase and Danny Orr and a really solid effort from the pack – in particular Lee Mitchell and Nathan Massey – the hosts cut the deficit to four points just four minutes into the second half.
The score remained that way until 17 minutes from time and Leeds could only breathe easily when Danny McGuire capped an outstanding game with a solo try with five minutes left, though another late touchdown did little justice to the hosts’ efforts.
Hall yet again displayed outstanding finishing powers for his hat-trick and McGuire was an outstanding attacking threat, but Leeds looked a much better team with starting props Jamie Peacock – back in the side after being rested for the previous game – and Kylie Leuluai on the field.
Cas were brave, but they ran out of steam at the end. The sides battered each other for the opening 10 minutes and it was Tigers who blinked first, conceding the opening penalty followed by a try.
The score was a work of art, Hall cleverly getting the ball down at the corner after instinctive handling by Rob Burrow, McGuire, Brent Webb, Zak Hardaker and Webb and McGuire again.
Cas could have scored either side of that, McGuire halting opposite number Chase just short, before Brett Ferres, restored to the side after injury, almost made it over, but couldn’t find a way through a four-man wall.
Chase got over on 16 minutes after snapping up a loose ball from McGuire’s pass, but video referee Richard Silverwood spotted a touch by Kirk Dixon.
Five minutes later Rhinos had one chalked off when Burrow and Webb linked to put Hall over, but referee James Child spotted a forward pass.
The winger got over the line for a third time on 23 minutes, Silverwood ruling in their favour – to the fury of the home fans.
McGuire’s excellent kick and a terrific chase, led by Jay Pitts, forced a drop out and in the next set Sinfield, McGuire, Webb and Hardaker worked the ball to Hall, who twisted out of Josh Griffin’s attempted tackle to romp over.
After a long look, Silverwood decided Hardaker had not knocked the ball forward before it reached his winger.
Leeds increased their lead despite losing possession in the set from the re-start. Following the scrum the ball bounced out of Oliver Holmes’ grasp to Kallum Watkins, who scorched 70 metres to score, despite a valiant chase by Nick Youngquest.
Sinfield landed his third difficult conversion to make it 18-0 and Rhinos missed a chance on the half hour when Chris Clarkson – recalled to the side in place of the injured Weller Hauraki – failed to touch down from the skipper’s towering bomb.
That would have put the game in Leeds’ pocket, but Tigers climbed off the deck to snatch back-to-back tries in the five minutes before half-time, reducing the gap to eight points.
Moments after Clarkson’s error – in a set from a penalty – Mitchell went close and then Clark caught Leeds napping by sneaking over from acting-half, a well-taken try by the young hooker, but soft from the visitors’ point of view.
Leeds conceded another penalty following the re-start and another try, Clark supplying Chase, whose pass was finished by Dixon, though he couldn’t add to his earlier conversion.
Cas struck first after the break, with a similar effort to Watkins’ earlier touchdown – though Josh Griffin had to run even further for his seventh try of the season, snapping up the rebound after Hardaker failed to take Webb’s pass almost on the home line.
Superb Cas defence kept Hardaker out in a rare Leeds attack, but the centre did better on 63 minutes with the final pass to put Hall over for his hat-trick, after McGuire and Webb had also handled following a brilliant break by Ben Jones-Bishop.
Sinfield’s fourth conversion – his third from the right touchline – gave Leeds some breathing space, though mistakes in sets after tries were a constant problem for the visitors .
This time Leuluai was the guilty party and Cas almost took advantage, with Adam Milner being tackled just short before Josh Griffin knocked-on at the corner.
A try then would have set up a grandstand finish, but Leeds ended the game well on top and in good style. Academy product Hood didn’t get off the bench until six minutes from time, but still managed to cap his debut with a try from his first touch, shooting over from a close range tap in the final moments. That was just after McGuire had secured the points, dummying twice to cross close to the posts. Sinfield maintained his 100 per cent success rate to finish with 12 points.
Aussie prop Grant Millington made his debut for Tigers and was steady without imposing himself on the game, which was understandable after such a long lay-off. The penalty count was 6-5 in Leeds’ favour – 3-2 to Cas in the first half. Referee Child had a good game.
Castleford Tigers: Owen, Youngquest, McGoldrick, Dixon, J Griffin, Chase, Orr, Emmitt, Milner, Millington, Ferres, Holmes, Jones. Subs (all used) Clark, Snitch, Mitchell, Massey.
Leeds Rhinos: Webb, Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Hardaker, Hall, Sinfield, McGuire, Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Pitts, Delaney, Ablett. Subs (all used) Kirke, Clarkson, D Griffin, Hood.
Referee: James Child (Dewsbury).