BEFORE THE sides met at Headingley in June, Leeds Rhinos coach Brian McDermott hit out at praise being piled on Castleford, accusing the media of behaving as if Tigers had invented a new version of the game.
Cas might not have done that, but they are playing a different brand to anything Rhinos are capable of matching and that was underlined by a 38-24 result at the Jungle tonight.
It was Tigers’ eighth successive win over Leeds and their fourth this season. From Leeds’ point of view, the prospect of meeting Cas again at Old Trafford next month is not a happy one.
The fact this was first versus second in the table doesn’t reflect well on the competition. Leeds could point to having a couple of key players out and some pre-match disruption, but the fact is Castleford are at the moment a much better team and the margin could have been much greater.
The visitors led early and the scores were level at the end of the opening quarter, but Cas then scored four tries in 15 minutes to race into a massive 30-6 half-time lead.
After their decent start, Rhinos were overwhelmed before the break.
They made a series of errors with the ball and their defence could not deal with what Cas threw at it.
Tigers, not surprisingly, eased off in the second half and Leeds improved. They can take heart from out-scoring Cas 18-8 over the final 40 minutes, but being able to dig in and show some spirit and fight at 30-6 down is not necessarily a great attribute.
As for Cas, they clearly have a weakness when they are 24 points ahead! Tigers won’t be too concerned about their poor second-half display. When they were on, they were red hot and it was an impressive team display.
Ben Roberts, in particular, was excellent, alongside Luke Gale, in the opening 40 and they could afford to cruise through the second period, though the sight of Zak Hardaker hobbling off was a concern.
Rhinos were in the game for 20 minutes, despite an early escape when Michael Shenton’s pass to Greg Eden was ruled forward.
The visitors hit the front after six minutes. Jesse Sene-Lefao got underneath Mitch Garbutt to prevent him getting the ball down, but on the next play Kallum Watkins showed what he can do when he gets quality ball by forcing his way over from Danny McGuire’s pass. He also landed a terrific goal from the touchline.
Roberts almost levelled for Tigers when he got round Carl Ablett, but the Leeds man got back to make a try-saving tackle.
But that was a temporary reprieve as Cas were level by the 14th minute. They caught Leeds cold from a scrum near the visitors’ line and Eden went over from Zak Hardaker’s pass, with Gale booting the first of his six conversions from as many attempts.
Rhinos turned down two points from a penalty in front of the posts – after a foul by Jake Webster on McGuire – and Adam Cuthbertson was held up over the line by Nathan Massey following the tap, but a knock-on by Watkins relieved the pressure.
At that stage it had been a contest, but suddenly Tigers moved to a different level.
The rout began when Alex Foster – one of a posse of players impressing for Cas after being rejected by Leeds – turned the ball over near Leeds’ line, but McGuire knocked on almost immediately and Roberts ran a quality line on to Moors’ excellent pass after Paul McShane had also handled.
Roberts made a break in the next set and kicked ahead, Tom Briscoe taking the ball dead to concede a goal line drop out.
The kick went deep into Tigers’ half, but they still scored in the resulting set. Liam Sutcliffe made a try-saving tackle on Mike McMeeken, but Webster went over on the next play.
Then at the end of the next set, Jack Walker didn’t take Gale’s high kick and the ball bounced to Foster. He should have been wrapped up, but shrugged off some poor attempted defence to stretch over.
Tigers added a fifth try, just before the break when Gale kicked over the line, the ball evaded Ward and Roberts touched down.
It could have been worse for Leeds, but Shenton had a touchdown ruled out for an obstruction by Hardaker and Ablett held Moors up over the line.
The second half began in similar fashion to the first, with Rhinos scoring early. Jones-Buchanan went over from the base of a scrum after Greg Minikin spilled McGuire’s kick, Watkins converting.
But then Jones-Buchanan knocked on in the next set and Minikin crossed, from Webster’s pass.
Leeds scored a third try, after three penalties on Tigers’ line, early in the third quarter when Matt Parcell nipped over, Watkin converting.
Gale landed a penalty six minutes from time, but Garbutt crashed over on the final play and Watkins converted after the hooter.
For the second time in successive weeks Leeds had to reshuffle due to an injury in the warm-up. Brett Delaney was the casualty this time. He suffered a hamstring problem so Ashton Golding, who warmed up as 18th man, came in on the bench, though he was not used.
Jordan Lilley started at scrum-half for his first game in a month, but was taken off before the break with Sutcliffe moving into the halves and Jimmy Keinhorst coming on at centre.
Leeds were without stand-off Joel Moon – last week’s warm-up victim with a groin injury – and half-back/hooker Rob Burrow who was serving a one-game ban.
Garbutt came into the starting front-row with Cuthbertson moving to loose-forward and Ablett dropping to the bench.
Ablett was into the action within five minutes, after Stevie Ward suffered a bang to the head, but Ward returned after a concussion assessment.
Minikin returned on the right-wing for Tigers, in place of Jy Hitchcox. With Matt Cook being sidelined by a back problem, Massey went into the front-row and Adam Milner stepped up off the bench at loose-forward.
McMeeken returned in the second-row and Moors dropped to the bench. Grant Millington was also back, among the substitutes, with Kevin Larroyer dropping out.
The penalty count finished 8-5 to Leeds (4-2 in Rhinos’ favour the first half).