Castleford Tigers produced another heroic display as they came up with a superb win against Leeds Rhinos for the second time this season at Headingley.
Two tries in the first eight minutes and two scores in the first seven minutes of the second proved the key as Daryl Powell’s men triumphed 29-22 to clinch fifth place in the Super League and seriously damage the Rhinos’ treble hopes.
Castleford flew out of the traps and were 12-0 up in the first eight minutes.
First, Luke Gale’s lovely little pass sent Grant Millington charging clear and Gale backed up to take a return pass and give the Tigers a dream start.
He added the conversion and was on target with another goal four minutes later after combining with Michael Shenton to send Denny Solomona over in the corner.
In a thrilling start the Rhinos roared back and were level by the 14th minute.
Ryan Hall caught Kevin Sinfield’s well judged high kick and quick as a flash touched the ball down over the line.
He converted then was on target again soon after when Danny McGuire broke clear and his kick on was collected by Joel Moon with Mike McMeeken unable to keep hold of the ball on his own line.
Leeds thought they had scored again when Zak Hardaker went over, but the video referee ruled that Stevie Ward had obstructed Michael Shenton in the build-up.
Relieved Cas looked to take advantage with a spell of pressure in which they were unlucky not to score as Solomona was stopped inches short after catching Gale’s high kick, Junior Moors’ pass went into touch near the home line and Gale’s grubber kick was only just too long to go over the back line.
But Leeds threatened again as Brett Delaney was held up over the line and moments later they did go in front, Hall proving too strong for Ashley Gibson close to the line after taking McGuire’s pass.
It was the Tigers that finished the half the stronger, however, with player of the year Andy Lynch tackled just short of the line on a sixth tackle powerplay and Luke Dorn then given a controversial try.
It appeared Shenton may have obstructed in the build-up as Dorn took Gale’s pass to touch down over the line, but the video referee thought there was nothing wrong with the move and the try stood to level the game up again.
It stayed 16-16 to half-time, although Cas went close again when Solomona collected another high ball only to be unable to force his way over and Gale seeing a drop-goal attempt charged down.
Castleford repeated their flying start of the first half in the second as they produced two tries that stunned the home crowd.
Matt Cook made a superb break from his own half and followed up with an equally brilliant offload to Gale who gleefully raced over for his second try to which he added the conversion.
Three minutes later Ben Roberts made another break, the outstanding Gale backed up then played a brilliant inside pass back to Roberts who finished off one of the tries of the season. Gale’s goal made it 28-16.
Leeds responded with their biggest spell of pressure all night after cutting the deficit to six points through Adam Cuthbertson’s try and a goal by Jordan Lilley, who took over kicking duties with Sinfield injured.
But the Tigers responded with some outstanding goal-line defence as Brad Singleton twice and Cuthbertson were held up over the line and Carl Ablett was stopped inches short by a stunning Dorn tackle.
Cas saw the tough period out and clinched their memorable victory seven minutes from time when Roberts landed a drop-goal. It was no less than they deserved after a performance full of guts and no little skill.
Scorers - Leeds: Tries Hall 2, Moon, Cuthbertson; goals Sinfield 2, Lilley. Castleford Tigers: Tries Gale 2, Solomona, Dorn, Roberts; goals Gale 4; drop-goal Roberts.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker; Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Cuthbertson, Lilley, Peacock, Ablett, Ward, Delaney. Subs: Singleton, Garbutt, Walters, Leuluai.
Castleford Tigers: Dorn; Gibson, McMeeken, Shenton, Solomona; Roberts, Gale; Lynch, Milner, Millington, Holmes, Moors, Wheeldon. Subs: Cook, Boyle, Maher, McShane.
Referee: James Child.