Although exciting at times and played at a good pace, it was a scrappy derby between two teams missing some of their most influential players.
Castleford won it because they made fewer errors, defended superbly and took their limited opportunities when they came.
Leeds had enough possession, particularly at the start of each half, but – despite a big effort from stand-off Rob Lui in only his third game of the season – their execution was very poor.
It was Tigers’ third win from 11 matches in all competitions and their only Super League victories since April have been away to their two fiercest and closest rivals, Wakefield Trinity and Rhinos.
Whether this one can kick-start a push up the table into the top-six remains to be seen, but better players bring improved results and Castleford’s side featured 10 players who didn’t play in Monday’s home loss to Huddersfield Giants.
Leeds didn’t lack effort and the likes of Konrad Hurrell, Handley and Cameron Smith had good moments, but overall they weren’t good enough in any department.
Tigers punished a Rhinos blunder on their first incursion into home territory.
Rhyse Martin spilled Kruise Leeming’s pass 10 metres out and Jordan Turner picked up to send Greg Eden over for a try which Danny Richardson improved for the first of his five goals from as many attempts.
The scrum-half extended the lead with a penalty – for a high tackle by Lui on Niall Evalds – after 22 minute.
The restart sailed out on the full and in the resulting set, Evalds sent Mata’utia over for an easy try and the conversion gave the hosts a 14-0 lead.
Matautia was sin-binned seven minutes after his try after tackling Handley in the air, Cas immediately conceded another penalty and Rhinos opened their account in the next set through Lui, who stepped over for a converted try from close-range off Leeming’s pass.
A stunning try-saving tackle by Jesse Sene-Lefao, who forced the ball loose from Liam Sutcliffe’s grasp, just before the break prevented Leeds cutting the lead further and it might have been a different game if Rhinos had scored then. Leeds made a change at half-time when Brad Dwyer replaced Sutcliffe – struggling with a sore knee – and Leeming switched into the halves. They were back in the game within nine minutes of the resumption, through captain for the night Handley.
He finished superbly at the corner from Newman’s pass after Leeming and Myler had handled and Martin tagged on the two from the touchline to make it a two-point ball game.
At that stage all the momentum was with Leeds, but – as in the first half, Tigers proved ruthless when they got out into opposition territory.
Paul McShane made the break and though he was tackled by Myler, the former Rhinos hooker created a try with a kick across field which Eden caught and tipped on to Turner.
Richardson’s kick went over off the metalwork to give Tigers a two score lead going into the final quarter. Tigers would have sealed it with 13 minutes left but for a brilliant tackle by Dwyer on Eden, but the winger crossed in the 74th minute after Evalds got to Richardson’s kick ahead of Myler and Evalds batted it back.
Dwyer pulled a solo try back with a couple of minutes left and Martin added the extras, taking his 100 per cent kicking record to 33 successive goals.
But in the final seconds, Evalds made a break, was tackled just short – a good effort by Morgan Gannon – but Derrell Olpherts shipped the ball wide to Jimmy Keinhorst who scored moments after coming on.
Leeds Rhinos: Myler, T. Briscoe, Hurrell, Newman, Handley, L. Sutcliffe, Lui, Vuniyayawa, Leeming, Thompson, Donaldson, Martin, Tetevano. Substitutes: Holroyd, Dwyer, Gannon, Smith.
Castleford Tigers: Evalds, Olpherts, Mata’utia, Turner, Eden, O’Brien, Richardson, Smith, McShane, Millington, Holmes, Sene-Lefao, Milner. Substitutes: Massey, Foster, Matagi, Keinhorst.
Referee: Ben Thaler (RFL).