THERE WERE as many positives as negatives to come out of Leeds Rhinos’ 25-24 loss to Castleford Tigers, second-rower Carl Ablett believes, but the key lesson is in Betfred Super League you can’t afford to give a team a big early lead.
Rhinos have lost nine of their past 10 meetings with Tigers –the exception being last year’s Grand Final – but the game three days ago set a new standard for drama and tension.
Tigers looked to be heading for a record-breaking win when they led 24-0 after as many minutes, but Leeds began to find their feet and came agonisingly close to pulling off what would have been one of the greatest comebacks of all time.
Rhinos played some of their best rugby of the season in the final 54 minutes, but Ablett admitted they weren’t at the races early on and that’s what cost them the points. He denied Rhinos were taken by surprise at the start of the game, but conceded they couldn’t handle Cas in the opening quarter.
“It was just a really bad start from us,” Ablett said. “We knew what to expect, but Cas got on top of us and gained some momentum in that first 20 minutes.
“As we’ve seen before, they can post some tries on you.
“We were really disappointed with the start, but on the other hand we showed some character.
“They didn’t score after half-time and to keep them scoreless in the second half is a massive show of character, but you can’t go 24-0 down, that’s the issue.”
He added: “It’s all very well saying it was a good effort, but we’ve got to learn lessons.
“We can’t give teams a 24-point start, but in saying that, they weren’t breaking us down structurally and really taking us apart so some of that we will be able to fix up.”
It’s all very well saying it was a good effort, but we’ve got to learn lessons. We can’t give teams a 24-point start.Carl Ablett
After Tigers’ early onslaught Leeds scored five unanswered tries and played some outstanding rugby.
Centres Ash Handley and Kallum Watkins both touched down twice and Ryan Hall cut the gap to a single point with a try two minutes from time, though Watkins could not land what might have been a winning conversion.
“That showed some character,” Ablett said of Leeds’ fightback.
“After that bad start maybe we could just have tried to stay in the game and not concede any more, but it shows combinations are starting to develop a bit and we are looking a bit more threatening.
“It is exciting times, but we shouldn’t be conceding 24 points defensively.
“We will have to look at the video and come up with some answers because we’ve got a big period coming up.”
Rhinos travel to Huddersfield Giants on Friday, followed by an Easter Monday clash with Salford Red Devils at Emerald Headingley.
“It can be a bit of a defining period,” Ablett said of the Easter weekend, which culminates in a derby at Wakefield Trinity on Sunday, April 8.
“If you come out of Easter well you can rack up a fair few points.
“It’s three games in 10 days so there’s six points on offer and it’s important we attack it and take some positives from that [last Friday’s] game, but there’s loads of stuff to work on.”
The crowd of 23,246 at Elland Road was Leeds’ best ‘home’ gate in Super League and the ninth-highest in the competition’s history.
In the past half a century Leeds have bettered that total for only one league game, when 23,570 watched a 21-14 defeat by Wigan at Headingley in March, 1990.
“It was a great atmosphere, especially in that second half when we made a real game of it,” Ablett said.
“That’s the kind of game you want to be involved in, the quality of it. It was close and there wasn’t much in it.
“Hopefully we’ll keep as many of the fans as we can and they will keep coming back.”