Rohan Smith praises Leeds Rhinos’ defence after denying Castleford Tigers their first victory of the campaign

The adage ‘points for show, defence for dough’ was highlighted when Leeds Rhinos successfully avoided becoming Castleford Tigers’ first victims of the Super League season.
Picture by Allan McKenzie/ Castleford's Jack Broadbent is tackled by Leeds' Matt Frawley & Justin Sangare..Picture by Allan McKenzie/ Castleford's Jack Broadbent is tackled by Leeds' Matt Frawley & Justin Sangare..
Picture by Allan McKenzie/ Castleford's Jack Broadbent is tackled by Leeds' Matt Frawley & Justin Sangare..

Leeds often struggle away to their near-neighbours and a defeat at Wheldon Road 12 months ago, coupled with one to Tigers at Magic Weekend, cost them a place in the 2023 play-offs.

A repeat looked possible in the first half of Thursday’s derby, which Leeds spent pinned in their own territory.

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Castleford forced five goalline drop-outs and put Rhinos under almost constant pressure, but the visitors held firm and, against expectations, looked the fresher side following the break, scoring almost immediately and going on to run in four tries in a clinical display.

The 26-6 victory was an impressive response by Leeds following back-to-back league and Challenge Cup losses against St Helens and left them well placed in the table, with four wins from their opening six games.

And while imports Paul Momirovski and Lachie Miller sealed the deal with a brace of tries each, Smith felt an “extremely strong defensive performance” was what secured the points. “They played really well I thought,” he said of Castleford, whose first win last year came at Leeds’ expense.

“They stretched our edges and found some good kicks to get repeat sets. We were camped in our own half pretty much the whole first half, but we’ve been difficult to break down all season and they found it hard to break us down.

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“Our kick defence was outstanding and particularly Lachlan Miller was everywhere the ball was, which great full-backs do.”

Miller, an Australian full-back signed from Newcastle Knights, was Leeds’ outstanding player. He is a relatively recent convert from rugby union sevens, but Smith feels he is getting to grips with the very different demands of Super League.

“He is good at beating the first bloke,” said the coach. “He can do that any time he wants, but at times he tries to beat the next bloke and the next bloke.

“[On Thursday] he was running hard, not looking for space – he was looking to break tackles and run strong and the ball ended up in his hands a few times, deservedly so. But his defensive work in that first half gave us a chance to do that in the second half.

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“With the amount of ball they had and position, based on their good play and forcing repeat sets, usually something ends up going against you and points are scored, but the discipline of our defence not to concede penalties and also to keep turning up on kick plays was huge.”

Rhinos’ derby win was marred somewhat by injuries which ruled one player out of Friday’s visit of Warrington Wolves and left another needing hospital treatment.

Harry Newman passed a head injury assessment (HIA), but was unable to return to the action. Smith said: “He has got a nasty split to his lip which is going to need a fair few stitches, I’d imagine, when he gets to the hospital. Hopefully there’s nothing else structurally there, but we’ll find out once he goes.

James Bentley failed an HIA later in the opening period, which automatically rules him out of the next game. Smith added: “He is feeling okay, which is the priority. He will be out for a couple of weeks.”

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Leeds were without prop Tom Holroyd and Smith said: “He has got a really badly bruised elbow from the incident last week where, after he grabbed [St Helens’] Jack Welsby, somebody tackled him into the wall and he banged his elbow on the wall.”

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