WEMBLEY-BOUND Leeds Rhinos rubbed salt into Castleford Tigers’ wounds with an 10-try rout at Headingley Carnegie last night.
Five days after Leeds needed extra-time to beat injury-hit Tigers 10-8 in a Carnegie Challenge Cup semi-final, an even more threadbare Cas outfit were blitzed 56-0.
It was Leeds’ second successive clean sheet at home. Their fifth straight win in all competitions moved them three points clear of seventh-placed Tigers and strengthened their hold on sixth spot on the table.
With Catalan Dragons losing, Rhinos are back in the hunt for fifth and slumping Huddersfield, in fourth, are still just about catchable.
It was a grim night for Tigers, who didn’t have the troops to give Leeds a game, despite plenty of effort.
There were just two changes to the Leeds starting line-up from the semi-final. Danny McGuire started at scrum-half – swapping places with Rob Burrow, who was on the bench – and Weller Hauraki, a substitute last week, began in the second-row, in place of the injured Brett Delaney. Ali Lauitiiti was recalled among the replacements.
Tigers were without Rangi Chase. The stand-off made a appeared in court in Australia during the week, after flying out on Sunday evening. He stayed for treatment to a shoulder problem and is due back on Monday.
Also out from last week were injured quartet Kirk Dixon, Paul Jackson, Brett Ferres and Ryan Hudson. Into the 17 came Dean Widders, Oliver Holmes, Nathan Massey, John Davies and Daryl Clark.
Cas trailed 20-0 at the break and the second period was even more one-sided. Tigers did have chances in the opening period, though they were few and far between.
Adam Milner’s opportunism almost created a score as he chipped and chased from acting-half, but Brent Webb bravely tidied up; Orr dropped the ball over the line – spotted by an in-goal judge – and a fine tackle by Lauitiiti stopped Jordan Thompson in his tracks.
Cas had brief spells of pressure towards the end of the third quarter, but Leeds’ strong goal-line defence stood up well.
After a mistake-ridden opening and despite some needless errors in the second period, it was a solid effort by Leeds.
Jamie Jones-Buchanan, scorer of their first try, had a big game, Kylie Leuluai was effective and Kallum Watkins did some good things, though he would have liked more ball.
Rhinos were on the front foot from the opening moments, when they butchered a golden chance.
Watkins broke clear down the right with Danny Buderus racing up in support, despite an obstruction by referee Thierry Alibert.
Watkins turned the ball inside, but the hooker knocked-on in front of the posts with the line begging.
Leeds could feel aggrieved when Ryan Hall got over the line on 14 minutes, but Carl Ablett’s pass was ruled forward, after good handling by Jamie Peacock, Webb and Jones-Buchanan. The decision was marginal at best.
Leeds finally got points on the board after 18 minutes, in bizarre fashion. McGuire dabbed a grubber kick in-goal, which never threatened to go dead. Winger Richard Owen stood and watched and then failed to react as Jones-Buchanan followed up and put a hand on the ball.
A superb tackle by Danny Orr denied McGuire as he looked set to skip clear, but Tigers’ defence was badly exposed moments later, on 24, when Rhinos doubled their lead with a dazzling score.
Ben Jones-Bishop defused Orr’s kick in goal, Buderus took a quick tap and fed Jones-Buchanan and he ran diagonally through a huge gap, shrugged off Oliver Holmes and then supplied Hall
The winger hit the ball at pace, turned Owen inside out and went over the line untouched. In the next set Burrow – with his first touch – fed Sinfield and he put Watkins over.
Just before half-time Widders went high on Webb near the Leeds line and then Parker clouted Burrow around the head and Sinfield took the two.
Realistically it was over as a contest by half-time, but Leeds turned the screw with three tries in the opening six minutes of the second period.
McGuire played a one-two with Ablett – who is growing in confidence in the centres every game – before sending Webb over, though a couple of passes in the movement looked forward.
At 26-0 down it was now a case of damage limitation for Cas and the signs weren’t good as Rhinos scored again in the next set.
Burrow, McGuire and Webb worked the ball to Hauraki, who made a break and – with support inside – sent a high, outside pass to Jones-Bishop, who finished strongly at the corner.
Maybe Hauraki wanted to test his captain’s goal kicking. Sinfield – who had converted the first four tries – hit a post from the touchline.
Sinfield then dummied into a gap, drew the full-back and put Lauitiiti over, before landing his sixth kick. With the job done, coach Brian McDermott was able to rest Sinfield in the final quarter.
Burrow scored and converted Leeds’ seventh try, backing up Ablett’s break 16 minutes from time – and did it again two minutes later, this time from Buderus’ – forward-looking pass.
With nine minutes left Buderus, Burrow and McGuire worked the ball to Jones-Bishop, he grubbered in field and McGuire touched down.
With three minutes left Webb scored his second try, after good work by Lauitiiti and Hall, the final two tries being unconverted.
The penalty count was shared 6-6.
Leeds Rhinos: Webb, Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Ablett, Hall, Sinfield, McGuire, Leuluai, Buderus, Peacock, Hauraki, Jones-Buchanan, Clarkson. Subs (all used): Kirke, Bailey, Lauitiiti, Burrow.
Castleford Tigers: McGoldrick, Isa, Youngquest, Arundel, Owen, Widders, Orr, Parker, Milner, B Davies, Jones, Holmes, Aspinwall. Subs (all used): Massey, Thompson, J Davies, Clark.
Referee: Thierry Alibert (Toulouse).