Leeds 12 Castleford Tigers 23: Hardaker returns to inflict defeat on Rhinos

Zak Hardaker dives over for the Tigers' third try.  Picture Bruce Rollinson
Zak Hardaker dives over for the Tigers' third try. Picture Bruce Rollinson
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AIDED BY Leeds Rhinos’ inability to hang on to the ball, Castleford Tigers bounced back to winning ways with a deserved 23-12 victory at Headingley last night.

It was an outstanding result for Tigers, just five days after their Ladbrokes Challenge Cup defeat at Hull FC.

Zak Hardaker breaks to score. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Zak Hardaker breaks to score. Picture Bruce Rollinson

Like last month’s Magic Weekend meeting at Newcastle, it was close in the first half, but Tigers took control at the start of the second to win by 11 points.

The game was in the balance at the break, but two tries in six minutes early in the second period ensured there was no way back for Leeds, though they kept the scoreline respectable.

Cas are now seven points clear at the top of Betfred Super League, while Leeds have dropped a place to fourth after Hull’s win over Wakefield Trinity.

Leeds’s hopes of winning the league leaders’ shield are all-but over and there’s no sign of them being able to beat Tigers this year, so the Cup final is now clearly their best hope of silverware.

Rhinos opened the scoring after eight minutes with a contender for the most bizarre try of the season.

Danny McGuire sld a grubber kick over the line, Matt Parcell tried to get a hand on it, but missed and Ben Roberts picked up. He tried to get into the field of play, but offloaded out of Ryan Hall’s tackle straight to Ash Handley.

Referee Robert Hicks indicated a try, but handed the decision on to video assistant Phil Bentham.

He checked that Parcell hadn’t touched down or knocked on and that neither Roberts nor Handley had put a foot on the whitewash and eventually the green light was given.

Liam Sutcliffe converted and Rhinos led against Tigers, but not for long.

On 13 minutes Greg Eden produced a brilliant diving finish at the corner for his 31st try of the season – from Minikin’s pass – and Luke Gale levelled the scores with his conversion after Bentham had confirmed the score.

Hicks had waved the tackle count when the ball came loose from Paul McShane in the build-up to the try – ruling it was knocked out rather than knocked on – and McGuire was sin-binned for protesting.

Rhinos survived their 10 minutes with 12 men, despite a succession of errors early in the tackle count, but Tigers went in front seven minutes before the break when Gale – who was Tigers captain on the night – took the two after Parcell was caught offside on the last tackle.

At the end of the next set Gale put up a huge kick, Tom Briscoe dropped it and Eden touched down. Hicks handed the decision on as a try, but Bentham ruled Foster – who was one of the chasers – had been offside, which was a huge let off for Leeds.

Keith Galloway was held up over the Tigers line soon afterwards and Leeds ended the half on the attack when Joel Moon chipped over the defence and McGuire, Briscoe and Jamie Jones-Buchanan carried on the move.

Parcell picked the ball up at acting-half and forced his way over, but Hicks had already blown to signal half-time.

Zak Hardaker, on loan at Cas from Leeds before the move is made permanent at the end of the season, was jeered by the home fans on his first return to Headingley.

He gained spectacular revenge at the start of the second half with the try which put Cas firmly in control. There was nothing on when he received the ball inside his own half, but he broke past three attempted tackles, rounded rival full-back Sutcliffe and had time to wave to the Cas fans on the Western Terrace before touching down.

Gale’s conversion made it 14-6 and he was heavily involved when Tigers extended their lead six minutes later. He was fortunate to win a penalty, against Jones-Buchanan, but his kick on the last tackle was read perfectly by Grant Millington who ran through to touch down.

Bentham checked for a knock-on by Hardaker and ruled he had dropped the ball backwards to Eden, who hacked it on to Gale.

The conversion opened a 14-point gap which Rhinos reduced on the hour when McShane and Jy Hitchcox got in a tangle from McGuire’s kick and Adam Cuthbertson touched down, Sutcliffe adding the extras.

But Gale booted a penalty with 10 minutes left before completing the scoring with a one-pointer.

Leeds Rhinos: Sutcliffe, Briscoe, Watkins, Hall, Handley, Moon, McGuire, Galloway, Parcell, Singleton, Jones-Buchanan, Ward, Ferres. Substitutes: Cuthbertson, Garbutt, Mullally, Walker.

Castleford Tigers: Hardaker, Hitchcox, Webster, Minikin, Eden, Roberts, Gale, Milner, McShane, Millington, Foster, McMeeken, Sene-Lefao. Substitutes: Massey, Springer, Patrick, T Holmes.

Referee: R Hicks (Oldham).