Castleford Tigers came up second best to Leeds Rhinos on their big Old Trafford occasion as they struggled to cope with the atrocious weather and what was at stake in the Betfred Super League Grand Final.
The Tigers will talk about a big learning curve, but they were well below their best as they suffered a 24-6 defeat to a battle hardened Leeds side that have been here and done it so many times before.
Experience of the big occasion counted for much as the Rhinos kicked Cas to death in a display that was more about practical rugby than skill on a horrible wet night.
Cas showed no sign of nerves initially as they tore into the Rhinos from the kick-off and showed how confident they were feeling as they turned down the chance of an easy two points when given the first penalty.
When they chose to run it Jake Webster was inches from scoring and Luke Gale’s grubber was then well defended by Danny McGuire on his own line.
On the next set Gale’s high kick was well taken by Tom Briscoe and the Leeds line remained intact.
Greg Eden, playing at full-back in Zak Hardaker’s absence, made a threatening break on a free play only to lose the ball in a tackle 25 metres out.
Another knock-on proved more costly shortly after when Greg Minikin lost the ball over his own line chasing a hit and hope kick from the Rhinos.
From the drop-out and resulting set McGuire sent out a pinpoint high kick to the corner and Briscoe outjumped Jy Hitchcox before getting the ball down for the all-important first try, to which Kallum Watkins added a good conversion.
Leeds now had a spell on top and came close to a second score as Watkins followed up McGuire’s grubber and appeared to get the ball down. Referee James Child gave a try, but video referee Phil Bentham ruled no try as the ball was coming out of the Rhinos centre’s grasp as he was aiming to touch it down.
With handling mistakes denying the Tigers a chance to show their attacking prowess they were forced to defend further and Joel Moon’s kick was taken by Ben Roberts before he was forced back over his own line by Brett Ferres to concede a drop-out.
Cas survived with some good tackling near their line and when on attack again turned down another chance to kick a penalty. This time when they ran it Eden looked set to score only to have the ball knocked out of his hand by McGuire close to the line.
Roberts’ grubber forced a drop-out and it was the Tigers’ turn to put the pressure on, but one chance went begging when Junior Moors’ pass to Grant Millington near the Leeds line was deemed forward.
A penalty for a ball steal gave them good field position again and they ran another penalty only for more bad luck to strike. Gale’s grubber was chased by Hitchcox, but the video referee ruled no try with obstruction in the build-up.
Another no try decision at the other end saw Briscoe denied a possible score as he chased a long kick but appeared to push Paul McShane in trying to get to the ball.
But McGuire added a point for Leeds right on the hooter when he landed a drop-goal to make it 7-0 at half-time.
The second half started in poor fashion with mistakes by both sides as the rain lashed down.
Roberts wasted two chances for Cas with poor kicks on sixth tackle plays before a kick play came off for the Rhinos on 52 minutes when Moon’s high kick was spilled by Eden and McGuire followed up to score. The video referee confirmed the try in a 50-50 decision that went Leeds’ way this time. With Watkins failing to goal it was 11-0.
It was all Leeds now with another drop-out forced then a third try scored as Watkins sent Briscoe over with a pass that looked forward but was not spotted. Watkins’ touchline goal made it 17-0 and it was looking like a sorry night for the Tigers now.
It summed up their night when they took a short kick-off from another drop-out and got to the ball only to spill it.
Leeds scored again from another Tigers mistake as Rob Burrow’s grubber squirmed out of Mike McMeeken’s hands and McGuire pounced for his second try, to which Watkins added the goal.
Cas really knew it was not their night when Eden touched the ball down only to have what would have been his record equalling score ruled out as Hitchcox was judged to have put a foot in touch in passing the ball inside.
Man of the match McGuire added a second drop-goal to rub in the Rhinos’ superiority on the night, but at least the Cas fans had something to cheer in the last minute when Alex Foster went over for a try after a rare handling move.
Gale added the goal, but it was 24-6 on the night and Castleford had to admit they were second best on the occasion.
Scorers - Castleford: Try Foster; goal Gale. Leeds: Tries Briscoe 2, McGuire 2; goals Watkins 3, drop-goals McGuire 2..
Castleford Tigers: Eden; Minikin, Webster, Shenton, Hitchcox; Roberts, Gale; Massey, McShane, Sene-Lefao, O Holmes, McMeeken, Milner. Subs: Millington, Moors, Cook, Foster.
Leeds Rhinos: Walker; Briscoe, Watkins, Sutcliffe, Hall; Moon, McGuire; Singleton, Parcell, Garbutt, Jones- Buchanan, Ward, Cuthbertson. Subs: Burrow, Ablett, Ferres, Mullally.
Referee: James Child.