Two-try Castleford Tigers hero Jesse Sene-Lefao has revealed how he was inspired by celebrations to mark the opening of Leeds Rhinos’ new North Stand and completion of Emerald Headingley’s £45m redevelopment.
Sene-Lefao touched down in each half as Tigers ended their four-game losing run with a comprehensive 30-8 victory to leave Rhinos deep in Betfred Super League relegation danger.
It was Tigers’ second visit to Headingley this year, after a 21-20 golden-point extra-time defeat two months ago and the first time the North Stand has been fully open.
Leeds pulled out all the stops, with flags handed out to every fan in the seated areas, pyrotechnics and a rendition of Land of Hope and Glory as the players lined up on the pitch.
That wasn’t enough to motivate the home side to victory, but Sene-Lefao admitted the ceremony left him buzzing and itching to get stuck in.
He enthused: “Honestly, the walk out was awesome.
When a club sets an atmosphere like that it makes you want to play rugby even more.Jesse Sene-Lefao
“The kids and the fireworks and the crowd, then you have Leeds singing their anthem – I don’t know what song it is, but I am walking out and seeing six year olds singing their song and they know all the words, it was really awesome.
“I could not believe how good it felt, it was something special.
“When a club sets an atmosphere like that it makes you want to play rugby even more.
“The national anthem too, a lot of people might be like ‘why are you doing this’?, but for me it was awesome.
“Respect to the county itself and the game, I don’t know what everyone else felt like, but it was a really special moment for myself.”
Not that Tigers were short of inspiration after their poor recent run.
Both teams were desperate for a victory, but Tigers – after trailing 2-0 early on – dominated for most of the contest and will take fresh confidence into their Magic Weekend clash with St Helens in eight days’ time.
“We have been under pressure the last month and our mindset was pretty much ‘anything to win’,” Sene-Lefao said.
“We had a really interesting week in camp, we had a couple of meetings, but it is awesome just to breathe again.
“We will take a lot of confidence from that game and next week is a big challenge again.
“It’s just week to week and hopefully we can build some momentum going into this next month.”
Sene-Lefao described the talk in meetings before the game as “in-house stuff”, but conceded: “Obviously the last month of rugby for us hasn’t been up to standard.
“We set a high standard here at Cas and we haven’t been hitting those standards.
“It didn’t matter how we won, the most important thing was to win.”
On his day, there are fewer players more devastating near the opposition’s line than Tigers’ 29-year-old Samoan forward. There was doubt over his first try when he appeared to have been held up over the line, but he insisted: “Yes, I got it down – I just got it down late!”
Of the other, he added: “We spoke about coming out in the second half and setting a platform and not giving in early. To get points first was a good goal to tick off and to get over was exciting for me – I think I put the ball down twice, just to make sure.”