Leeds Rhinos Women will finish the regular season as league leaders following a third straight victory over Castleford Tigers Women.
A Rhiannion Marshall hat-trick plus a Caitlin Beevers double earned the Rhinos a 32-20 win in Castleford, despite a second-half resurgence from the Tigresses.
Marshall and Beevers gave Rhinos the perfect start as their tries in the opening quarter of an hour gave Leeds a 12-0 lead.
As Castleford struggled to get going, Leeds capitalised and extended their lead through Menina Spurr.
Rhinos then began to take their foot off the gas which allowed the hosts to enjoy more possession. It didn’t take long before Castleford turned that possession into points as Emma Slowe scored on her debut outing for the Tigers.
Castleford were gaining momentum however, a knock on half way down the field gifted the ball back to the Rhinos. Adam Cuthbertson’s side made full use of it with Beevers scoring on the back of a Frankie Townend break.
The hosts were 16 points behind at the interval but came out looking like a different team in the second half.
Almost immediately after the restart, winger Courtney Pointon crashed over in the corner to give Castleford hope.
Twenty minutes later, the hosts struck once again. Rhinos defence struggled to deal with a kick in their own 10 which provided the perfect opportunity for Tara Stanley to step in, claim the ball and touch down in the corner.
With the game now hanging in the balance and Castleford threatening a comeback, Rhinos needed to find a response.
Marshall was the one to step up to the plate as she won back possession, raced over the whitewash and converted her own try to make it 28-14 with around 12 minutes remaining.
There was still enough time for the Tigresses to take something from this game and they certainly gave it a go. Georgia Roche came up with a good break and found full-back Tara Stanley to her right.
Stanley managed to get away from the Rhinos defence and touch down under the posts.
The atmosphere at the ground was becoming ever more tense as the hosts continued to press for more points. However, a high tackle in their own half ended any hopes of a comeback.
Castleford’s efforts to retrieve the ball were to no avail. Instead, Marshall completed her hat-trick with a break down the left wing.
As Scott Fernandez blew his final whistle, Leeds burst into celebrations.
This victory ensures their place at the top of the league and more importantly, it means that the Rhinos will play the semi-final at home.
It’s likely that their opponents in that game will once again be the Tigers who look on course to finish fourth despite yesterday’s defeat.
Bradford Bulls are the only other challengers for a semi-final spot following their victory over Featherstone however, they need a win over Wigan next week and hope that the Tigers lose their two remaining games.