WHEN you have missed two months of action, you want to make an impact as quickly as possible upon your return and, if a record win comes along too, that is a pleasant bonus.
Veteran full-back Luke Dorn did just that for imperious Castleford Tigers last night, scoring a hat-trick of tries within just 32 minutes of his comeback at Headingley, where his rampant side also recorded their biggest victory on this ground.
The Australian, out with a hamstring injury since March 13, thrived on the back of some brilliant promptings from Luke Gale, the scrum-half who demonstrated once more why he has to be England’s No 7 in the forthcoming Four Nations.
Gale, rejected by hometown Leeds as an Academy player, was sublime, orchestrating Castleford brilliantly with his handling, running and kicking game as the demoralised defending champions were terrorised yet again.
The visitors, on the back of Saturday’s fine Challenge Cup win against Salford Red Devils and with on-loan Widnes Vikings winger Paddy Flynn making an impressive debut, simply crushed abysmal Leeds.
And what of the bottom-of-the-table Rhinos? There is an argument for this report being centred on the bizarre demise of last season’s treble winners, but that story has been written most weeks for the last two months.
It is no longer newsworthy; people now actually expect the champions to lose given their play has deteriorated so badly.
Furthermore, doing so would take away from Castleford’s supremacy after they defeated their West Yorkshire rivals, moving up to sixth and keeping their top-four ambitions alive.
How woeful Leeds will turn things around – head coach Brian McDermott heard disillusioned fans calling for his resignation last night – perhaps only chief executive Gary Hetherington will know following this heaviest home defeat since losing 56-18 to Bradford Bulls 20 years ago.
In reality, they are now destined for the ignominy of the Qualifiers; this was their last chance to keep faint hopes of the top-eight alive yet they seemed bereft of any real fight let alone conviction.
Dumped out of the Challenge Cup a week ago, they could be seven points adrift of the Super 8s by Sunday night with just nine games remaining and, so, how they must wish they had a talisman of Gale’s ingenuity and control.
After Mitch Garbutt opened the scoring for the hosts in the sixth minute, it was the 27-year-old former Bradford Bulls star – ironically first given his Super League chance by McDermott at Harlequins – who took charge.
The irrepressible Junior Moors, such a handful at second-row, offloaded for Dorn’s first and then Joel Monaghan claimed Gale’s chipped kick to feed Denny Solomona, the prolific winger who scored via arguably the most outrageous of his trademark one-handed finishes yet.
The difference in class was obvious when Leeds winger Ash Handley was given a no-hoper ball on the last tackle and was bundled into touch by Solomona.
Moments later, Gale made one of his searing breaks and, soon after, had the vision to sit up a perfect grubber on the fourth tackle that Dorn collected untouched.
When Gale then produced a 40/20 kick, he stepped in again to find Dorn, Monaghan this time finishing, and the Tigers half-back converted for a half-time 30-6 lead.
Within two minutes of the restart, Handley dropped Gale’s latest towering kick and Solomona gathered his second try – his 18th of the season – before Gadwin Springer embarrassed Leeds by barging through four defenders in the shadow of the posts.
When they lost the ball again, Ben Crooks raced 50m for his first try since joining from Parramatta Eels and, though Handley hit back, Castleford rightfully finished off courtesy of Grant Millington’s try.
Who created it? Gale with a wonderful reverse pass.
Just five days after dislocating his knee against Salford, Nathan Massey started at loose forward for Castleford, playing his part in a fine pack display in which Gale shone.
Castleford coach Daryl Powell, the former Leeds chief, has now overseen victories in the last four meeting with their rivals.
For all the Rhinos were missing a raft of talent, Castleford, too, were without the likes of Benny Roberts, Michael Shenton, Andy Lynch, Oli Holmes and Jake Webster.
When they return, the Wheldon Roaders – who face Warrington Wolves next at Magic Weekend – will have every belief they can forge further up the table.
The question remains for their vanquished hosts, however, will the sight of their seven injured stars returning see them improve at all after 11 defeats in 14 league games so far?
Leeds Rhinos: Golding; Handley, Watkins, Keinhorst, Hardaker; McGuire, Lilley; Galloway, Burrow, Garbutt, Jones-Buchanan, Ferres, Cuthbertson. Substitutes: Mullally, Sutcliffe, Achurch, Walters.
Castleford Tigers: Dorn; Flynn, Crooks, Monaghan, Solomona; McShane, Gale; Patrick, Milner, Jewitt, McMeeken, Moors, Massey. Substitutes: Cook, Millington, Springer, Tickle.
Referee: Richard Silverwood (Mirfield).