Leeds Rhinos 21 Castleford Tigers 20: Dwyer is the unlikely hero of golden derby win
THEY VERY nearly threw it away, but Leeds Rhinos – finally – got back to winning ways with a remarkable 21-20 success against Castleford Tigers last night.
Rhinos led 20-4 after an hour, Castleford hit back to level the scores with eight minutes left and, amid pandemonium, Brad Dwyer was the unlikely hero with his first drop goal – in fact successful kick of any sort – at the end of the first set of golden point extra-time.
He obviously wasn’t the designated kicker, but took his chance in memorable fashion, just getting the ball over the bar from 40 metres out.
The boot has been on the other foot, but Tigers were left shattered after – inspired by Jake Trueman and Grant Millington – they had staged an almost unbelievable recovery.
It was only Leeds’ second win of the season and ended a five-match losing run. Had they been beaten it would have been a tough one to recover from, but this should give them a real shot in the arm and the celebrations afterwards were unlike any seen at Emerald Headingley for years.
The first half was as good a 40 minutes as Leeds have had this year and out-of-sorts Castleford could have been further behind.
They showed impressive resilience – and rode their luck a touch – to restrict Rhinos to two touchdowns, but a series of uncharacteristic errors meant the visitors were on the back foot for much of the opening period.
Leeds scored the first and third tries, with Tigers levelling the scores in between. Neither side’s first-choice kicker was on the field and the first three conversion attempts all bounced away off a post.
Rhinos extended their advantage to 16 points within 12 minutes of the second half kick-off and the hosts looked set fair, but then the failings which have cost them all year suddenly resurfaced.
They gave penalties away, began to miss tackles and failed to cope on last tackle play.
Tigers, having barely been in the game up to that stage, rallied brilliantly with back-to-back tries to cut the gap to just four and it was all-square with eight minutes left, setting up the drama of golden-point.
Trent Merrin had a huge game for Leeds, and was off the field when Tigers began their fightback and Jack Walker, Konrad Hurrell and Richie Myler were also outstanding.
With playmakers Luke Gale and Jamie Ellis already on the casualty list, Cas lost another pivot when Jordan Rankin was ruled out due to a hamstring injury suffered in training.
That meant Paul McShane switched into the halves with Adam Milner at hooker, which does unbalance Castleford’s attack, though the No 9 was instrumental late on.
After 12 minutes McShane was lucky to escape with only a talking-to and penalty against after, as the ball carrier, aiming an elbow/forearm at Myler’s head. Myler stayed on his feet which probably went in McShane’s favour, but the Cas man will have a nervous wait until the match review panel look at the game on Monday.
As well as Rankin, Tigers were also without Nathan Massey (hand).
Leeds’ only change was James Donaldson’s return on the bench, with Jamie Jones-Buchanan stepping up into the starting 13 in place of the suspended Brett Ferres. Rhinos were on top from receiving a penalty on the first play of the game to the 60th minute when Tigers’ revival started.
The early penalty came to nothing because Cameron Smith knocked on playing the ball on the last, but as Tigers cleared their lines a straight-forward drop by McShane put them back under pressure and Konrad Hurrell powered through the visitors’ suspect right-side defence, past Greg Minikin, McShane, Peter Mata’utia and James Clare. Leeds survived a penalty for offside from the restart and a break by Myler carried them upfield and generally they looked the sharper, more focused team in the opening exchanges.
McShane’s foul on Myler was more evidence Tigers were rattled – as was a forward pass by Trueman in a penalty set soon afterwards – but defence on their own line following the McShane incident indicated they meant business.
Having watched Rhinos’ previous games Tigers probably knew they could afford to weather the storm and then wait for Leeds to implode. On 21 minutes Merrin was penalised for a ball steal on Liam Watts and, a familiar story, Rhinos were undone on the final play of the resulting set when McShane took the ball to the line and Watts was on hard to force his way over the top of Myler, though the grounding had to be confirmed by video referee James Child.
Child was back in action within seconds, ruling out what looked to be a Leeds try when Hurrell stormed over again, from Jack Walker’s pass.
Referee Thaler said no try and Child agreed there had been an obstruction by Jones-Buchanan in the build-up. Tigers’ defence would not have stopped Hurrell so the decision was maybe right by the letter of the law, but it’s a bad rule. Once more Cas put themselves under pressure, Clare and Minikin colliding and allowing the restart to go into touch.
Moments after that Tom Briscoe touched down from Sutcliffe’s high kick, but Thaler and Child agreed Watkins had touched the ball into Greg Eden first.
Four minutes before the interval it was Cas’ turn to have a claimed touchdown disallowed when Milner darted for the line on the last.
It’s sort of play Rhinos have fallen victim to numerous times this season, but on this occasion Merrin was alert enough to prevent the makeshift hooker getting the ball down.
With a minute remaining Watkins made a break, Walker was in support and after Mata’utia held on to him too long Sutcliffe booted the long-range penalty to send Leeds in a converted try clear.
They went 10 points up nine minutes after the interval with a counter-attack when Trueman’s kick was picked up near his own line by Watkins.
Tigers’ young back Callum Tuner, fresh off the bench, did really well to chase the Leeds captain down, but Cas’ defence was nowhere and Rhinos showed good composure to make the opportunity count as Sutcliffe went over off a one-two with Walker.
Smith missed with the kick, but on 52 he did boot his first goal for the club, making it 20-4 after Merrin had dived over from Dwyer’s pass close to the line.
Tigers had been unable to apply sustained pressure up to that stage, but they did around the hour mark with a couple of scrums and a penalty and a nice move brought its reward when Minikin swooped over after McShane, Trueman and Mata’utia had handled.
Turner added the extras and converted again at the end of the next set.
Cook made a huge break and though Leeds held on the last, they were undone by some quick thinking by Millington and McShane.
Millington seemed to have been wrapped up on the line, but offloaded to McShane and his long pass sent former Leeds man Chris Clarkson over.
The scores were level when another former Rhino, Alex Foster, touched down at full-stretch from Peter Matau’tia’s grubber.
There was no conversion. In a frantic finale to normal time Trueman had a drop goal disallowed for a foul by Watts on Merrin, then missed before Sutcliffe’s attempted one-pointer fell short.
Cas were set for a drop goal on the final play of the 80, but McShane went for glory and was tackled.