YET another hat-trick by Ryan Hall helped Leeds Rhinos deliver victory last night but this derby affair was contested far more toughly than the scoreline suggests.
The prolific England international secured his seventh treble for the Headingley club as he further showcased his talent as perhaps the greatest winger in the world.
But it was not until the last of that trio in the 63rd minute that Leeds could breathe easily against West Yorkshire rivals who produced plenty of character and spirit which would have pleased absent head coach Ian Millward.
Earlier in the day, the grief-stricken Australian had buried his teenage son Robbie, meaning Stuart Donlan was again in caretaker charge, and there had been a genuine fear Castleford would be run ragged by the Super League champions just as they had been by Wigan five days earlier.
However, they trailed just 18-14 before Hall completed his treble and it needed late tries from the excellent Danny McGuire and 20-year-old Liam Hood – just moments after coming on for his league debut – to add gloss for the visitors.
Leeds edged ahead in the 11th minute following some tight opening exchanges.
When Kylie Leuluai was felled by a high tackle, their backs showed all their customary crispness to get Hall over in the corner, ex-Featherstone youngster Zak Hardaker showing good awareness in the build-up.
Kevin Sinfield’s touchline conversion crept over but gutsy Castleford – who showed a far greater urgency in defence compared to the 46-4 loss against Wigan – responded well.
Brett Ferres was only denied as Hardaker swung high on him and Rangi Chase thought he had sauntered in when McGuire’s pass hit the ground but the video referee rightly deemed Kirk Dixon had a hand in the play.
McGuire himself should have extended Leeds’s advantage when his great footwork put Kallum Watkins speeding into space.
However, the England scrum-half could not collect the return pass with the line begging as he motored up in support.
It was, though, McGuire’s perfectly-placed kick which set up position for their second try on 23 minutes.
An excellent chase led by Jay Pitts saw Richard Owen captured behind his own line and from the drop-out Hall added his second.
Granted, there was a touch of fortune to it, Hardaker getting a debatable touch to Webb’s floated pass which Richard Silverwood deemed was okay although, regardless, Castleford should have defended it better.
From a standing start, hugging the touchline, Hall picked up before fending clear both Danny Orr and Josh Griffin.
Sinfield converted and did so again when Castleford were further punished for switching off once more.
This time it was Nathan Massey who coughed up a standard pass right into Watkins’s lap allowing the centre to sprint in from 80m.
At 18-0, it seemed Leeds were on course to repeat Wigan’s annihilation.
However, after Rhinos’ replacement Chris Clarkson missed a glorious chance by fumbling as Owen dallied over Sinfield’s kick, the hosts earned a breakthrough.
Two tries in quick succession just before the break gave Castleford new-found belief and left Leeds struggling.
First Daryl Clark sneaked over from close range after Leeds prop Darrell Griffin had been penalised for a high tackle to concede territory.
Dixon converted and then, in the next set, more Leeds ill-discipline saw Castleford advance further downfield.
This time Dixon powerfully twisted over off Chase’s cleverly-disguised pass to leave their opponents nursing a double blow.
He could not improve his own score but Castleford – who saw Australian prop Grant Millington make a promising debut – clawed further back in the 45th minute.
Hardaker failed to take Webb’s poor pass and Griffin picked up to race 90m, the winger’s seventh try in just five games so far.
Lively hooker Clark caused Leeds problems around the ruck but the champions, with Jamie Peacock immense, defended their line well before asserting control.
Lee Mitchell, who was imposing all evening in the Tigers pack, denied McGuire and Owen produced a fine tackle to deny Hardaker as the hosts showed real defiance but they finally broke as Hall latched onto to the end of more slick passing following a surging break by Ben Jones-Bishop.
McGuire, perhaps Leeds’s most dangerous attacker, then weaved his way over for a deserved try near the end.
Castleford, who have now lost four on the trot, do dislike him; it was his 22nd try in 18 games against them but there was more to come as Hood showed real confidence to take a quick penalty tap and expose some lax defence.
By that point though, the breathless Tigers could not be faulted; they had worked over-time against a Leeds side who show no sign of giving up their title lightly.
Castleford: Owen, Youngquest, McGoldrick, Dixon, J Griffin, Chase, Orr, Emmitt, Milner, Millington, Ferres, Holmes, Jones. Substitutes: Clark, Snitch, Mitchell, Massey.
Leeds: Webb, Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Hardaker, Hall, Sinfield, McGuire, Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Pitts, Delaney, Ablett. Substitutes: Kirke, Clarkson, D Griffin, Hood.
Referee: J Child (Dewsbury).