CASTLEFORD TIGERS shrugged off their own recent poor form to heap more misery on Leeds Rhinos with an emphatic 30-8 win at Emerald Headingley last night.
It was Leeds’ first defeat in five home games in league and cup and ended Tigers’ four-match losing run, keeping their play-offs hopes very much alive.
It was supposedly a gala night for the opening of the new North Stand, but Tigers spoiled the party with a professional performance which, while not being anywhere near their best, was much better than recent displays and too good for Leeds.
Cas were more disciplined and made very few errors. They were on the front foot for the most part, but defended solidly on the rare occasions Leeds managed to apply pressure.
Jake Trueman – playing against his former Tigers academy half-back partner Callum McLelland – had an outstanding game, recent signing Cheyse Blair showed what a smart acquisition he will prove to be and Mike McMeeken, who has tightened up the right-edge, also impressed.
Leeds showed plenty of effort, in contrast to the Coral Challenge Cup defeat at Bradford Bulls last weekend, but offered little on attack, conceded some costly penalties and made some unnecessary errors, which is all par for the course.
Their Magic Weekend relegation clash with London Broncos in nine days’ time is now absolutely massive and there won’t be too many of their fans who travel to Liverpool in confident mood.
Leeds led briefly in the first half through a Liam Sutcliffe penalty goal, but were 12-2 behind at the break after a half Tigers dominated for the most part.
Sutcliffe was sent into a gap by a wonderful offload from Cameron Smith, but Trueman made the tackle and then dragged the ball out.
Sutcliffe was playing at full-back by that stage, in place of Tui Lolohea.
Lolohea seemed to damage an ankle after taking a high kick from Trueman at the end of the first set.
He underwent a series of running repairs before bowing to the inevitable and going off after only 11 minutes.
That meant a reshuffle with James Donaldson coming on in the second-row and Sutcliffe shifting to full-back, his third position in two games.
He had started in the second-row – with McLelland partnering the recalled Richie Myler in the halves – so Kallum Watkins could return to centre for the injured Konrad Hurrell.
Donaldson and Brad Singleton also returned to the team, replacing Adam Cuthbertson – who watched the game alongside coach Richard Agar and director of rugby Kevin Sinfield – and Wellington Albert.
The goal was on 14 minutes and Tigers were in front just four later after they had tapped a kickable penalty when Myler picked up in an offside position after a fumble by Watkins.
Jesse Sene-Lefao powered over from Paul McShane’s pass out of acting-half. Myler and then Watkins seemed to have held the big forward up, but referee Chris Kendall awarded the try with no hesitation.
Referees are damned if they do – which is usually the case – and damned on the rare occasions they don’t, but there was certainly enough doubt for Kendall to have asked video official Ben Thaler’s opinion.
With 26 minutes gone, Watkins upended Greg Eden and was sin-binned for the dangerous tackle.
Eden extracted more revenge following the penalty, darting over from Trueman’s long, looping pass.
The winger was one of three players recalled by Tigers alongside Mitch Clark and Jordan Rankin who was back from injury. Tuoyo Egodo, Will Maher and the injured Chris Clarkson made way.
Peter Mata’utia landed his second conversion and Leeds managed to hold on for the rest of Watkins’ time off the field, but an incident two minutes from half-time was a perfect illustration of why Rhinos are in their current mess.
Harry Newman broke up the middle with Watkins, just back on the field, in support, but Matt Parcell, who was on the captain’s left shoulder, over-ran him and spilled the pass.
A fully fit and firing Watkins would have been strong enough to score himself – or wouldn’t have been over-run – but it was six points, which would have got Leeds right back in the game on the stroke of half-time, wasted.
Maybe if they had scored then Rhinos could have made a game of it, but Tigers put the game to bed within five minutes of the restart.
It came from an outstanding piece of work by big forward McMeeken, who stole the ball one-on-one from Newman to set up an attack which ended by Sene-Lefao romping past Watkins from Trueman’s pass.
Mata’utia landed the goal and from then on it was, realistically, a case of how many Tigers would win by.
Soon afterwards Kendall awarded Tigers a 20 metre tap for a Leeds knock-on when it appeared Castleford should have been dropping out from their own line.
Following that McMeeken was penalised for an incorrect play-the-ball – which was another questionable decision – and Leeds gave themselves hope with a try in the subsequent set, Parcell going over from Myler’s pass after some thrilling offloading which showed what Rhinos are capable of when they put their mind to it.
It was noticeable that every Leeds player ran in to congratulate the try scorer, in contrast to the half-hearted response to Mclelland’s try against Bradford.
That had given a lifeline, but ill-discipline and a failure to deal with kicks have been two of Leeds’ many weaknesses this year and they proved costly again.
Trent Merrin was penalised for dissent and on the last tackle Rankin – who had just replaced Cory Aston – kicked across field, Newman couldn’t take it under pressure from McMeeken and Clare touched down for a try which Mata’utia improved.
Merrin has been sin-binned for dissent this season and Leeds conceded two penalties for the same offence in the humiliation at Bradford. However poor the match officials are, there’s only one outcome when players show anger or frustration.
That score ended Leeds’ brief comeback and Tigers scored again soon afterwards, with 13 left, when Matautia’s pass sent Eden bursting past Tom Briscoe and Trueman was in support to touch down another converted try – as Parcell and ref Kendall collided in back play.
The penalty count was six-three to Castleford and ended nine-eight in Rhinos’ favour after they received five of the last six.