IT was perhaps no surprise in a game of such an utterly bizarre nature that Kevin Sinfield, the England captain, would receive his first red card, for head-butting an opponent.
As the Leeds Rhinos leader lost his cool – possibly for the only time in his illustrious 17-year professional career last night – by angrily nodding his head at Castleford Tigers’ Luke Dorn in the 73rd minute, the crowd at Headingley Carnegie must have thought they had seen it all.
However, after he was dismissed, the resilient visitors capitalised with the extra man to level through Grant Millington’s converted try and there were more strange sights still to come.
To add to the surreal nature of it all, 12-man Leeds, having seen Danny McGuire charge down Marc Sneyd’s attempted drop goal, had one more chance themselves.
Yet in a comical mix-up, Rob Burrow - so unusually for the classy hooker - somehow found prop Jamie Peacock rather than McGuire with his pass for their own shot.
In fairness, the veteran front-row was not far off with his unprepared attempt from 30m out and, realistically, seeing the 36-year-old slot a one-pointer would have been more unlikely than witnessing the red mist descend on Sinfield.
Dorn, the elusive full-back who had caused Leeds so many problems in this battle for Super League’s top spot, was striving for a quick play-the-ball on his own 20m as Sinfield laid on in the tackle.
He remonstrated with referee Ben Thaler and the Leeds stand-off took offence, striding towards the Australian before aiming his head in like a rutting stag.
Dorn looked as surprised as anyone. Sinfield, who is soon to receive an MBE for services to the sport, departed with his shirt ripped and probably as stunned himself as the spectators.
A point was the least Castleford, who move up to third just a point behind new leaders Leeds and St Helens, deserved. The first half had already been a bizarre affair to say the least. Some brilliant football played but all still very bizarre nonetheless. It was so frenetic.
There were plenty of mistakes to leave you wondering were these really two of the best teams in Super League but, just as quickly, they would generate moments of sheer class to confirm their status.
Leeds were behind after only 65 seconds when Peacock lost the ball in the first set and Justin Carney beat Tom Briscoe to Marc Sneyd’s high kick to palm down for Michael Shenton.
Sneyd slotted the first of his four conversions but Kirk Dixon spilled the restart. However, then Leeds centre Joel Moon dropped Zak Hardaker’s pass close to the visitors’ line only for Castleford’s Jake Webster to fumble that ball, wasting the opportunity of an 80m free run to the opposite end. The madness had begun.
However, Briscoe got one back against Carney to take Sinfield’s crossfield kick and reply for Leeds in the eighth minute, his captain levelling the game.
It was Sinfield’s kick again which furnished them with a second, although there was then some stunning inter-play between Ryan Hall and Moon on the left flank to give Ryan Bailey his walk-in.
Carl Ablett, a forceful runner all night for Leeds, erred in the restart set, however, and Castleford instantly made the England second-row pay as winger Dixon atoned for his mistake too, picking up a loose ball to the right and charging infield through McGuire for Weller Hauraki to score versus his former club.
Sneyd converted, just as Sinfield had done earlier, but Ablett continued the theme of atonement by scoring their third try with a fine piece of footwork which left Liam Finn and Hauraki bemused although there was a high level of doubt about the player’s grounding.
However, Nathan Massey exposed some woeful Leeds defence between their own posts for Sneyd to take Castleford in level at 18-18 and the second half saw relative calm with players finally finding some rhythm and defences getting on top.
Castleford thought they should have taken the lead in the 47th minute only for the obstruction ruling to rear its ugly head once more and deny Carney in the corner. The big Australian winger seemed certain to score 10 minutes later but Briscoe – who had a terrific game – came up with a brilliant tackle.
Moments later, Leeds took the lead when Ablett showed great determination to latch on to Moon’s ricocheted kick and win the race to the line for his second, Sinfield converting.
Sinfield saw a drop-goal attempt charged down by Lee Jewitt – whose quality slip pass later set up Millington – but by the time the next opportunity came the revered captain was in the dressing rooms alone contemplating that rush of blood to his head.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker; Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Leuluai, Aiton, Peacock, Ablett, Ward, Delaney. Substitutes: Achurch, Burrow, Bailey, Jones-Buchanan.
Castleford Tigers: Dorn; Dixon, Webster, Shenton, Carney; Sneyd, Finn; Lynch, Milner, Jewitt, Holmes, Hauraki, Millington. Substitutes: Huby, Massey, Clark, Mariano.
Referee: B Thaler (Wakefield).