IT HAS been clear for a year that Castleford Tigers are a team on the up as Leeds Rhinos decline.
But that fact was really rammed home in front of a packed house at the Jungle as – an admittedly below-strength – Leeds team were ruthlessly ripped apart and left utterly embarrassed.
It finished 66-10 which was a fair reflection. It was Leeds’ heaviest defeat at Cas and the first time since 2001 they had conceded more than 60 points.
Leeds went into the game on the back of successive wins and with the feeling they were making progress after the traumas of last year.
But they were brought crashing down to earth by a brilliant Cas outfit who were far superior in every department.
There is absolutely no sign of Rhinos being able to turn things around any time soon.PEter Smith, YEP rugby league writer
It was Castleford’s fifth successive win over Leeds – and the second time in as many meetings they’ve scored more than half a century – and there is absolutely no sign of Rhinos being able to turn things around any time soon.
Rhinos weren’t nilled, continuing a record stretching back to 1998, but that was absolutely no consolation and there was a sense of anger among Leeds’ large travelling support, much of it directed at coach Brian McDermott.
Tigers have recruited heavily, which was obviously needed, since Daryl Powell took charge in 2013 and they’ve been smart about it.
A good example is Mike McMeeken, plucked from London Broncos, who was sensational last night and on current form will be a member of England’s squad for this year’s World Cup
Leeds were pre-game underdogs and their chances became slimmer when the teamsheets came out.
Five of Rhinos’ 17 played for somebody else last Sunday, which illustrates the patched-up nature of their side, though they were all drawn from the 30-man full-time squad.
Jordan Lilley trained with Bradford Bulls – where he has been on loan – yesterday morning before being drafted on to Leeds’ bench after Rob Burrow was taken ill.
Also called up, despite not being in the initial 19, were Jordan Baldwinson and Anthony Mullally.
They played for Featherstone Rovers on dual-registration at Swinton four days earlier, along with Ash Handley and Brett Delaney.
Handley has been in outstanding form for Rovers and was preferred to Tom Briscoe as a starting winger while Delaney came in for his first Super League game of the year.
Joel Moon started in the centres so Jimmy Keinhorst could move to the second-row alongside Delaney and Josh Walters was recalled at loose-forward.
Stevie Ward (hamstring) and Jamie Jones-Buchanan (foot) missed out with injuries suffered against Salford last Friday and Mitch Garbutt (pectoral muscle) was also unavailable, joining long-termers Keith Galloway and Brett Ferres on the casualty list.
All that clearly had a bearing, but probably on the margin rather than destination of the league points.
The fact is, at the moment Cas are playing at a higher level than even a full-strength Leeds could match.
They have size in the pack, creativity in the halves – even with a hooker playing there – and explosive finishing power out wide. They are well-organised, confident and play a glorious brand of attacking rugby league. And on top of that, their defence had improved significantly.
Zak Hardaker had the expected big game against his former club, Cas’ pack as a unit were far too big and strong and they were brilliantly organised by Luke Gale, who is exactly what Rhinos are lacking.
They would have beaten most teams last night, but Leeds – treble winners in 2015 – should be more competitive
On this evidence their squad outside the first 17 is not good enough and the pressure for change – whether that is a major recruitment drive or new coach – will grow after this humiliation.
Leeds did not strengthen when signings were clearly needed at the end of last term and yesterday’s scoreline was a consequence of that.
Tigers had their own personnel issues with Ben Roberts (groin) ruled out for a second successive game and fellow stand-off Rangi Chase dropped for disciplinary reasons, so McShane shifted into the halves.
Oliver Holmes and Larne Patrick remained on the sidelines and Will Maher, who played for Batley last week, was called up among the substitutes.
Cas’ first four tries all followed Leeds errors. Hardaker provided the final pass to Greg Eden to open the scoring after just three minutes, following a scrum near Rhinos’ line after Ashton Golding knocked-on.
On 12 minutes Handley’s touch gave Tigers a repeat set, Adam Cuthbertson – promoted into the starting front-row – was penalised for interference and Andy Lynch was held up over the line.
The relief was short-lived for Leeds though as McShane looped a long pass wide to Greg Minikin and he touched down for the first of two tries in four minutes.
Attack, from a penalty, was turned into desperate defence when Liam Sutcliffe – who started in the halves, but later moved to the pack when Lilley came on for Delaney – knocked-on and Eden and Hardaker countered.
Leeds were caught offside and after they tapped the penalty in front of the sticks the young winger was in again, off Mike McMeeken’s pass.
On 23 minutes McShane stole the ball from Golding and the fourth error led to a fourth Cas try, Eden crossing for his second from Michael Shenton’s excellent pass.
McMeeken’s brilliant try was followed by Minikin’s hat-trick try, the circumstances of which summed up Leeds’ night.
Cas were penalised in possession, but Matt Parcell’s pass in the resulting attack was forward and in Tigers’ next set Gale broke away and kicked to the corner for his winger to go over, the goal making it 30-0 at the break.
Hardaker’s inevitable try came four minutes into the second half off a delayed pass by Gale. McShane – deemed not good enough for Rhinos – scored the next try.
Rhinos’ try came on 52 minutes. Eden spilled a high kick and Mullally hacked ahead and reacted first to touch down, Sutcliffe sadding the extras.
Webster crossed from a brilliant McMeeken offload on the hour and Mullally had a touchdown ruled out for a double movement soon afterwards.
The half-century came up with 10 minutes left when Eden completed his hat-trick, then Gale – who ended with nine goals – completed a 70-metre move involving Shenton and Minikin, before Shenton crossed.
Leeds scored the final try two minutes from time when Moon crossed from Danny McGuire’s pass, but Lilley could not convert.
The penalty count finished 7-6 in Cas’ favour (4-3 to Rhinos in the first half).
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