LEEDS RHINOS could have no excuses after losing 18-14 at Castleford Tigers.
Cas had more injury problems and were forced to defend for long periods, but sneaked home thanks to Jake Webster’s try eight minutes from time.
It was three tries each and, as that suggests, an even contest, but Tigers’ defence was better than Leeds’ attack and that earned them the points.
Tigers went 12-0 up after as many minutes, but trailed 14-12 at the interval.
Leeds could have been further in front, having players held up over the line three times, but two Cas touchdowns – one which referee James Child felt was a try – were chalked off by video ref Ben Thaler.
There was no scoring in the second half until Webster’s touchdown, but Cas had another disallowed and it was hard to argue they didn’t deserve the win.
Leeds had opportunities to make the game safe, but rarely looked a threat close to Tigers’ line. They only challenged Tigers when playing off-theh-cuff on the final tackle and their kicking game in particular was was poor.
Rhinos It was yet another sub-standard attacking performance by the champions, but credit to Tigers who defended manfully and in Luke Gale and Jake Webster they had two outstanding individuals.
A handful of Leeds players went well, Joel Moon and Jamie Jones-Buchanan in particular, but they are a good team in poor form.
Cas had been embarrassed at Warrington a week earlier, but they showed tremendous spirit to come up with such a strong reaction.
There were times they caved in, but they had a never-say-died attitude.
Leeds were nearer full-strength. They welcomed back Tom Briscoe for his first appearance since suffering a damaged ankle in the round two defeat at Widnes Vikings.
It was one in and one out wing-wise as Ryan Hall was sidelined by a similar problem picked up in the win over St Helens six days earlier.
Brett Delaney pulled out after the warm-up – due to a hamstring problem – and Jimmy Keinhorst came in among the substitutes.
Danny McGuire wasn’t included, so Jordan Lilley – who had been left out of the initial 19-man squad – kept his place on the bench.
Towards the end of the first half Beau Falloon was given a breather and Keith Galloway brought back on.
After the break Falloon came off again and Jones-Buchanan went on. Lilley was unused. Presumably there was a reason, but it’s not obvious what it was.
Rob Burrow went from half to hooker and full-back Zak Hardaker effectively took over at stand-off on attack.
Tigers had included stand-off Ben Roberts in their initial 19, but he missed out for a fourth successive game, due to a foot injury.
Frankie Mariano (knee) and the suspended Matt Cook dropped out from the team beaten at Warrington a week ago.
Ryan Boyle returned in the front-row and Greg Minikin, a centre signed in the off-season from League One side York City Knights, was among the substitutes for his debut.
Rhinos had the first chance when Tigers were caught offside in front of their own posts from Sutcliffe’s kick. They took a tap and Carl Ablett was held up over the line, but Cas’ defence stood firm.
Successive penalties took them to the other end and Jake Webster seemed to have scored when he got above Kallum Watkins to take a kick by Luke Gale, who was the game’s best half-back.
Referee Child said try, but handed the decision on. Video ref Thaler took an age to decide Webster hadn’t knocked on, but when he went to the grounding cheers turned to groans as it was obvious he had lost the ball going over.
Leeds then got back to back penalties, but failed to score – Briscoe losing the ball at the corner – and the pattern continued as Keith Galloway went high on Nathan Massey.
Gale and Adam Milner went close before Gale spotted a gap in the defence from acting-half and put Andy Lynch over.
Rhinos were penalised from the re-start and in the subsequent set Denny Solomona made a break and though Zak Hardaker managed to halt him just short he got the ball away to Webster, who crossed.
Gale converted both to make it 12-0 after as many minutes. Rhinos had made some good ground up to that points, but lacked a finish.
There didn’t seem to be much on when Hardaker’s pass fed Brett Ferres on the last. He kicked to the corner and Handley did brilliantly to not only keep in play, but also offload out of Joel Monaghan’s tackle to Joel Moon, who scored.
Liam Sutcliffe converted from the touchline, but it took an interception by Hardaker from Webster to prevent Gale scoring at the other end. It looked like the Leeds man knocked on, but the officials didn’t spot that, play went up the other end and Falloon spotted a gap on the blindside on the last.
Carl Ablett slipped a tackle and Watkins was in support to score. There was no goal and Leeds turned down the chance to equalise when they tapped a penalty in front of the posts.
That came after Mike McMeeken had crossed from a kick to the corner, but Child spotted a knock-on by Monaghan and Thaler agreed.
Three minutes before the interval Leeds scored their third powerplay try. Hardaker’s long pass was scooped on by Watkins to Josh Walters and he sent Briscoe in.
Leeds ran the ball in remarkable style on the last a few moments later and Handley forced his way over, but was held up. Cas’ defence scrambled brilliantly to hold Briscoe up too, on the stroke of half-time.
A brilliant tackle by Hardaker, to pull Solomona into touch, protected Rhinos’ lead early in the second half, then Sutcliffe intercepted a Gale pass, but Jy Hitchcox got back to make an equally impressive effort close to the line.
With 17 minutes left Paul McShane got over the line for Cas, but Webster’s pass was ruled forward. Cas had opted to tap a penalty rather than level the game by taking the two.
Eight minutes from time Hardaker dropped Gale’s kick near the line, Cas got another scrum and from that Gale’s pass put Webster over and the half-back converted to complete the scoring.
The penalty count finished 9-8 in Cas’s favour (4-4 in the first half).