WHAT began as a rout turned into a stunning thriller at Elland Road last night.
Castleford Tigers gained a small measure of revenge for last year’s Betfred Super League Grand Final defeat with this win, but Leeds staged a remarkable rally.
Cas scored at a point per minute in the opening 24, but Leeds scored 24 of the next 25, Luke Gale’s drop goal on the stroke of half-time, which made it 25-10,proving the difference.
Leeds scored five tries to four and Kallum Watkins had a touchline conversion attempt to win it two minutes from time, but could not find the target.
Leeds’s win at St Helens a week earlier was built on a gritty determination to hang on when the opposition looked ready to roll over them.
Tigers didn’t given them the chance. Playing at a higher level from the first set, they pulverised Leeds in the opening exchanges.
Leeds looked like frightened rabbits as Gale and Jamie Ellis kicked them to death and the way Tigers kept the ball alive was a flashback to last season’s best form.
After six minutes James Clare was tackled in the air by Tom Briscoe from a towering kick by Gale.
The next time Leeds had possession was eight minutes later and by then they trailed 18-0.
Four tackles on from the penalty Gale grubbered between the posts and his half-back partner Ellis read it perfectly, running through to touch down. Gale converted, Rhinos were penalised from the restart and Cas struck again with a sensational try on the last tackle.
Leeds couldn’t deal with Ellis’s kick, Ben Roberts kept it in play and with Rhinos stacked on their left, Tigers moved play the other way and Clare dived over at the corner from Greg Minikin’s pass.
Next set, Minikin made a break and though Leeds eventually managed to halt him, Ellis hoisted a kick on the last and this time Alex Foster made a brilliant catch before getting the ball down.
Gale added a third conversion and then Leeds started to play. Watkins made a good break, Richie Myler split the defence with Briscoe in support, but Roberts made a try-saving ankle tap and then Mikolaj Oledzki – with his first touch – appeared to have got the ball down from Joel Moon’s grubber.
Referee Chris Kendall thought so, but video assistant Ben Thaler spotted a knock-on. In the next set Cas surged to the other end and on the last Junior Moors crashed over from first receiver. Cleverly done, but from a defensive point of view, very soft.
Leeds at least ensured they wouldn’t be nilled, 13 minutes before the break. Myler’s kick was well claimed by Watkins and he showed great strength to get the ball down, though he couldn’t add the extras.
Neither team could deal with kicks. Rhinos added a second try, six minutes later, in similar fashion, Ash Handley this time scoring after Myler had put boot to ball.
Watkins’s conversion made it a 12-point ball game, but Rhinos stood and watched when Gale booted a drop goal as the half-time hooter sounded.
Moon got over the line a minute into the second half, when his own kick was batted on by Handley, but the ball had gone forward. Brad Singleton was sin-binned for running in after a high tackle by Carl Ablett on Moors, but Leeds continued to press.
Walker’s break forced a goal line drop out and Ashton Golding was held up over the line before Handley scored a lovely try. Stepping through from Myler’s pass. Jack Walker’s goal cut the gap to nine points.
Handley had a poor start, but was excellent in Leeds’s fightback, as were Golding and Watkins in particular.
Rhinos were now chancing their arm and they levelled the try count when Watkins crossed a second time, after Matt Parcell, Moon and Myler had handled.
In a frantic finale, Minikin was held up over the line and video ref Thaler ruled out a possible Jacob Trueman touchdown due to an obstruction.
At the other end, Oledzki was held up and then Ryan Hall got over at the corner from Handley’s pass.
Kendall said no, but Thaler overruled him. Watkins’s conversion from the touchline could have won it, but he was off-target.
Tigers coach Daryl Powell said: “For 20 minutes we were great.
“For the rest of the game we weren’t, but Leeds played well.”
Leeds: Golding, Briscoe, Watkins, Handley, Hall, Moon, Myler, Mullally, Parcell, Singleton, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Delaney. Substitutes: Walker, Smith, Oledzki, Walters.
Castleford: Roberts, Hitchcox, Webster, Minikin, Clare, Ellis, Gale, Millington, McShane, Massey, Foster, McMeeken, Milner. Substitutes: Moors, Cook, Trueman, Green.
Referee: Chris Kendall (RFL).