League leaders yield to Cas

Leeds Rhinos 22 Castleford Tigers 29

Jonathan Doidge at Headingley Carnegie

“Leeds, Leeds are falling apart again,” sang a joyous division of the travelling Castleford support after their beloved Tigers completed a Headingley double over the Rhinos in the same season for the first time since 1976-77.

In doing so, the visitors ended a three-match losing run of their own, helping to inflict the same fate on Leeds, who despite protestations that there would be no repeat of 2014, now have serious concerns about whether they can get out of what coach Brian McDermott described as “a bit of a hole”.

Cas played with the freedom of a team for whom the pressure of needing to win had been released a week earlier. Led up front by the outstanding Andy Lynch and ably supported by fellow prop Grant Millington, the Tigers were directed to all parts of Headingley by Luke Gale. The talented half-back capped a tremendous performance with a try in each half, prompting calls from the press box that he should be wearing an England jersey this autumn.

The Tigers also found a way to combat the renowned Adam Cuthbertson offloads and, while they did not render the prop ineffective, they certainly managed to stymie a fair proportion of the Leeds threat as a result.

The Rhinos, who were again minus the zip of Rob Burrow, gave Jordan Lilley his first start. However, despite the efforts of Danny McGuire, who split himself into several parts in order to try and galvanise his team, coping with the additional loss of skipper Kevin Sinfield just after the break proved beyond them.

Having ‘nilled’ Hull KR at Wembley, their defence has now conceded an average of over 35 points per match in three subsequent outings, which is clearly a concern. There were some glaring missed tackles here and an anxiety about the performance rarely seen from Leeds, a feeling that was mirrored by McDermott, who cut a perplexed figure post-match.

“We’re missing too many tackles and dropping too much ball, that’s the plain and simple fact of it,” he said.

“Yes it looks like last year, don’t ask me why, we’re not doing anything different in training but we’re not playing well.

“Am I concerned? No, I trust the group. We’re in a bit of a hole at the moment and we’ve got to dig ourselves out of it but I’d rather not be with any other group. They’re a fantastic bunch.”

Victorious counterpart Daryl Powell backed Gale for an England call-up before vowing to do his old club a favour when the Tigers travel to Wigan this week. He also lauded his team’s defensive effort.

“That was the most pleasing thing tonight. It was excellent. There was a couple of kicks that we didn’t deal with too well but we were just great in terms of defensive effort and determination.

“We had every intention of coming here and playing,” said Powell.

“We spoke a lot in the week about our defence and using the final two games as part of next season.

“We’re guaranteed fifth now and I’m really pleased about that. We’re striving to be a top-four team and I don’t think we’re that far away.”

Gale was on the money right from the kick-off, supplying Millington with a delightful short ball, before following the prop – who held off Zak Hardaker and drew in Ryan Hall – to take the return ball and post a fabulous score.

Just four minutes later the Tigers had doubled their lead. Hooker Adam Milner appeared fortunate to receive a penalty for interference against Brett Delaney, when it looked like the Castleford player had simply lost the ball. His team capitalised with a switch of play by Ben Roberts, with Gale again involved before skipper Shenton put winger Denny Solomona over for his 18th try of the campaign.

Having let Cas run up an 18-0 lead in the Round 18 defeat to them in June, this time the home side responded more quickly, with Hall soaring above Ashley Gibson to take Sinfield’s pinpoint crossfield kick and make it tries in four successive games against the Tigers.

By the 15th minute, the game’s fourth try had been posted and it was the Rhinos who came up with it. Danny McGuire’s midfield break and kick ahead resulted in a pick-up and touch down for centre Joel Moon. Ref James Child referred it to his video colleagues as ‘no try’, though they ruled that there had been a touch by Mike McMeeken and overturned the on-field call to award the try.

The reverse happened just moments later, Child referring a decision upstairs as a try, but on checking for obstruction, Hardaker’s score was ruled out because Ward had impeded Shenton.

Leeds hit the front for the only time when Hall took McGuire’s lovely cut-out pass and steamrollered Gibson to score his 199th try for the club, but by half-time the Tigers had restored parity with a controversial try by Luke Dorn.

The Tigers’ fullback got on the end of Gale’s pass to score, but there was plenty of debate about whether Shenton’s dummy run had impeded McGuire, particularly in view of what had happened at the other end earlier in the half. Dorn’s demeanour indicated that he thought he had got away with one.

A blistering start to the second-half saw Castleford repeat the dose of drawing 12-points clear in a matter of minutes. Seconds after Sinfield had limped off, Cook slipped through between Delaney and Ablett on a 50-metre gallop straight down the middle. The second-row forward held off Hall and Hardaker before slipping the ball inside to the supporting Gale, who rounded off a magnificent score under the posts.

Better was to follow. Taking Boyle’s pass on his own 30-metre line, Roberts stepped Garbutt and plundered a similar route to that taken by Cook. Eventually he handed on to Gale, before a great understanding between the pair saw the stand-off change direction and take Gale’s flick pass to complete a brilliant passage of play with another try.

For all their fallibilities on the night, Leeds kept trying and reduced the deficit when Lilley sent Cuthbertson spinning over for his third try against this opposition in as many matches this season. With no Sinfield, Lilley added the extras.

Briscoe’s run down the right flank set up another Rhinos assault, but Cas were resolute, holding up both Singleton and Cuthbertson over their own line. Dorn then produced a wonderful try-saver on Ablett, before Roberts sealed this significant success with a drop goal six minutes from the hooter.

Leeds Rhinos
1 Zak Hardaker
2 Tom Briscoe
3 Kallum Watkins
4 Joel Moon
5 Ryan Hall
13 Kevin Sinfield (Capt)
6 Danny McGuire
17 Adam Cuthbertson
29 Jordan Lilley
10 Jamie Peacock
14 Stevie Ward
12 Carl Ablett
15 Brett Delaney

21 Josh Walters
8 Kylie Leuluai
19 Brad Singleton
30 Mitch Garbutt

Tries: Hall (12, 30), Moon (15), Cuthbertson (53).
Goals: Sinfield 3/4, Lilley 1/1

Castleford Tigers
1 Luke Dorn
26 Ashley Gibson
24 Mike McMeeken
5 Michael Shenton
20 Denny Solomona
6 Ben Roberts
7 Luke Gale
8 Andy Lynch
9 Adam Milner
10 Grant Millington
11 Oliver Holmes
16 Junior Moors
19 Scott Wheeldon

Subs (all used)
12 Matt Cook
15 Ryan Boyle
28 Will Maher
35 Paul McShane

Tries: Gale (5, 45), Solomona (9), Dorn (37), Roberts (47)
Goals: Gale 4/5
DG: Roberts

Attendance: 15,069
Referee: James Child
HT: 16-16
Penalties: 7-7
Man of the Match: Luke Gale – Super skills from the half-back
Weather: Mild, dry.

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