AIDED BY Leeds Rhinos’ inability to hang on to the ball, Castleford Tigers bounced back to winning ways with a deserved 23-12 victory at Headingley last night.
It was an outstanding result for Tigers, just five days after their Ladbrokes Challenge Cup defeat at Hull.
Like last month’s Magic Weekend meeting at Newcastle, it was close in the first half, but Tigers took control at the start of the second to win by 11 points.
Rhinos led briefly early on, but went in at the break two points down. They played with passion, but allowed hearts to overrule heads.
Tigers were on the back of a punishing game played in sweltering heat, while Leeds had had two extra days’ rest.
Rhinos needed to complete their sets and wear the visitors down. Instead they made a succession of errors and didn’t put Tigers under any sustained pressure.
Tigers were smarter and their defence was excellent, both Leeds’ tries coming directly from a Cas error.
The game was in the balance at the break, but two tries in six minutes early in the second period ensured there was no way back for Leeds, though they kept the scoreline respectable.
Cas are now seven points clear at the top of Betfred Super League, while Leeds have dropped a place to fourth after Hull’s win over Wakefield Trinity.
Leeds’ hopes of winning the league leaders’ shield are all-but over and there’s no sign of them being able to beat Tigers this year, so the Cup final is now clearly their best hope of silverware.
Despite last weekend’s result, Tigers are coping well with injuries.
Captain Michael Shenton was ruled out due to a knee problem so they fielded a reshuffled back line with Jy Hitchcox coming in on the right-wing and Greg Minikin moving to centre.
In the pack, hooker Adam Milner – who has also been playing at loose-forward – was named at prop in place of Andy Lynch, who was left out.
Grant Millington stepped up off the bench into the other front-row spot and Alex Foster, a substitute last week, started in the second-row against the club where he began his professional career.
Gadwin Springer returned on the bench, after recovering from a hamstring injury and Tom Holmes was recalled though – like Leeds’ Jack Walker – he didn’t get on.
Leeds’ only change was the return of Jamie Jones-Buchanan, who was suspended last week, in the second-row in place of Carl Ablett, who was ruled out due to tonsillitis.
Ashton Golding (hamstring) and Rob Burrow (shoulder) remained on the casualty list despite being named in the initial 19.
Golding could be available for Thursday’s visit of St Helens, but Burrow is likely to need surgery to remove “metalwork” inserted after he suffered a broken collarbone three years ago and is set for at least two more weeks on the sidelines.
Rhinos opened the scoring after eight minutes with a contender for the most bizarre try of the season.
Danny McGuire slid a grubber kick over the line, Matt Parcell tried to get a hand on it, but missed and Ben Roberts picked up.
He tried to get into the field of play, but offloaded out of Ryan Hall’s tackle straight to Ash Handley.
Referee Robert Hicks indicated a try, but handed the decision on to video assistant Phil Bentham.
He checked that Parcell hadn’t touched down or knocked on and that neither Roberts nor Handley had put a foot on the whitewash and eventually the green light was given. Liam Sutcliffe converted and Rhinos led against Tigers for the first time this year, but not for long.
On 13 minutes Greg Eden produced a brilliant diving finish at the corner for his 31st try of the season – from Minikin’s pass – and Luke Gale levelled the scores with his conversion after Bentham had confirmed the score.
Hicks had waved the tackle count when the ball came loose from Paul McShane in the build-up to the try – ruling it was knocked out rather than knocked on – and McGuire was sin-binned for protesting.
Rhinos survived their 10 minutes with 12 men, despite a succession of errors early in the tackle count, but Tigers went in front seven minutes before the break when Gale – who was Cas’ captain on the night – took the two after Parcell was caught offside on the last tackle.
At the end of the next set Gale put up a huge kick, Tom Briscoe dropped it and Eden touched down. Hicks handed the decision on as a try, but Bentham ruled Foster – who was one of the chasers – had been offside, which was a huge let off for Leeds.
Keith Galloway was held up over the Tigers line soon afterwards and Leeds ended the half on the attack when Joel Moon chipped over the defence and McGuire, Briscoe and Jones-Buchanan carried on the move.
Parcell picked the ball up at acting-half and forced his way over, but Hicks had already blown to signal half-time.
Zak Hardaker, who is on loan at Cas from Leeds before the move is made permanent at the end of the season – was jeered by the home fans on his first return to Headingley.
He gained spectacular revenge at the start of the second half with the try which put Cas firmly in control. There was nothing on when he received the ball inside his own half, but he broke past three attempted tackles, rounded rival full-back Sutcliffe and had time to wave to the Cas fans on the Western Terrace before touching down. Gale’s conversion made it 14-6 and he was heavily involved when Tigers extended their lead six minutes later. He was fortunate to win a penalty, against Jones-Buchanan, but his kick on the last tackle was read perfectly by Grant Millington who ran through to touch down.
Bentham checked for a knock-on by Hardaker and ruled he had dropped the ball backwards to Eden, who hacked it on to Gale.
The conversion opened a 14-point gap which Rhinos reduced on the hour when McShane and Hitchcox got in a tangle from McGuire’s kick and Adam Cuthbertson touched down, Sutcliffe adding the extras.
But Leeds never looked like pulling the game from the fire and Gale booted a penalty with 10 minutes left before completing the scoring with a late one-pointer.
The penalty count finished 9-9 (6-5 to Leeds in the first half).
Rhinos under-19s were thrashed 54-10 by City of Hull in yesterday’s curtain-raiser. Connor Sunderland and Alfie Goddard scored Rhinos’ tries and Tom Schofield added a conversion.