Castleford Tigers moved 12 points clear at the top of the Betfred Super League after a fourth win of 2017 over local rivals Leeds Rhinos - but their latest victory may have come at a cost.
Daryl Powell’s men ran out comfortable 38-24 winners after scoring five tries in a superb first half display, but lost influential duo Ben Roberts and Zak Hardaker to injuries in the second period.
Cas looked back to their attacking best in the first 40 minutes with some exciting play, but lost their way a little after the break with the Rhinos showing plenty of spirit in their determination not to be hammered as they were at this ground earlier this year.
It was Leeds who scored first off the back of a couple of penalties and a controversial forward pass decision that denied Greg Eden a try.
Mitch Garbutt was held up on the line before the next play saw the ball moved out to Kallum Watkins, who produced a strong finish for the opening score, which he also converted from the touchline.
But back came Cas to dominate most of the remainder of the first half.
The first sign of the danger their attacking play offered came when Ben Roberts made a clean break, but chose to go along when Mike McMeeken was on his shoulder and was tackled.
Three minutes later the left edge was on show with Zak Hardaker and Michael Shenton combining to send Eden over for his 40th try of the season. Luke Gale’s goal made it level.
Adam Cuthbertson was held up over the line as the Rhinos briefly threatened, but they were soon back defending as Gale’s kick forced a drop-out with Eden leading the chase to trap Jack Walker behind his own line.
Alex Foster lost the ball in a tackle a metre out, but the Tigers went ahead on 24 minutes when Roberts raced through a gap after a quick run from dummy-half by Paul McShane and pass by Junior Moors.
Roberts made another break from the next set only for his kick ahead to be reached first by Walker. A drop-out was the result, however, and from the resulting set Jake Webster powered over from close in from McShane’s pass.
Cas were on fire now and Foster grabbed his first try for the club after Gale’s high kick had eluded Walker and Tom Briscoe.
The Tigers looked unlucky to see a Shenton score ruled out for obstruction after he took Hardaker’s clever pass. Moors was then held up over the line.
They did score again, though, as Roberts followed up Gale’s well judged grubber to drop of the ball over the line. Gale’s fifth conversion made it 30-6 at half-time.
With the game effectively over it did not hit the same heights in the second half with both sides dropping the ball too many times for the match to flow.
Leeds scored their second try when after Greg Minikin dropped a high kick Jamie
Jones-Buchanan went over direct from the resulting scrum 10 metres out. Watkins added the goal.
But from the restart Jones-Buchanan went from hero to zero as he knocked on and from the next set the Tigers went over again, Minikin ironically benefiting this time and showing good feet to get over after Webster had stepped out of a tackle and provided the final pass.
Gale’s goal made it 36-12, but Leeds did not give in as Anthony Mullally was held up over the line then Matt Parcell scored from close range with Watkins converting.
Cas lost Hardaker to injury as the try weas being scored, with Roberts already forced off.
They came under further pressure with Danny McGuire’s high kick forcing a drop-out, but survived and stretched their lead to 20 points with Gale kicking a penalty.
Leeds kept plugging away and right on the hooter Mitch Garbutt came up with a good solo effort, powering over. Watkins kicked his fourth goal, but it was only a consolation for the visitors whop had lost for the eighth consecutive time to Castleford.
Scorers - Castleford: Tries Eden, Roberts 2, Webster, Foster, Minikin; goals Gale 7. Leeds: Tries Watkins, Jones-Buchanan, Parcell, Garbutt; goals Watkins 4.
Castleford Tigers: Hardaker; Minikin, Webster, Shenton, Eden; Roberts. Gale; Massey, McShane, Sene-Lefao, Foster, McMeeken, Milner. Subs: Millington, Moors, Springer, Patrick.
Leeds Rhinos: Walker; Briscoe, Watkins, Sutcliffe, Hall; McGuire, Lilley; Singleton, Parcell, Garbutt, Jones-Buchanan, Ward, Cuthbertson. Subs: Golding, Keinhorst, Ablett, Mullally.
Referee: Jack Smith.