Two sides with Wembley appearances in the last couple of seasons met for a mouth-watering sixth round Challenge Cup match as the Leeds Rhinos hosted the Castleford Tigers in what is, in 2022, a battle between two of the sides who are currently nervously looking over their shoulders at the relegation spot.
The Rhinos, under the temporary management of Jamie Jones-Buchanan following the departure of Richard Agar last Monday, were slight favourites to make the most of home advantage and secure progress. But try telling that to Lee Radford´s Castleford Tigers who came into the game fancying their chances of finishing off the wounded Rhinos.
A loss today would effectively signal the end of the season for one of these two sides, after just six rounds of Super League and one cup match.
Seven minutes in and the Tigers were in the lead with a try crafted over fifty metres with Jake Trueman in support of a breaking Kenny Edwards to take the pass and go twenty metres to ground in the corner. Gareth O´Brien hit the near upright with his conversion attempt but it was the perfect start for Lee Radford’s side.
On fifteen the Tigers were in again as poor defence allowed Jake Mamo to waltz through the line as the Rhinos tacklers flapped at him. This time O´Brien was accurate with the kick for 10-0, the Rhinos ´new era´ not off to the best of starts.
A nice flowing move from the Tigers, just before the half hour, saw the ball into the hands of O´Brien who fended off the Rhinos defenders to go over from twenty metres. The Castleford scrum half added the conversion for 16-0, the Rhinos just not at the races.
On thirty-five minutes Brad Dwyer was sin-binned for a trip, the Rhinos´ day going from bad to worse. Two plays later Jordan Turner found space to through a static Rhinos line for a fourth unanswered try. O´Brien added the conversion for 22-0.
Inside the last minute the Rhinos defence collapsed again as Lawler went through a massive gap in an achingly inadequate defence. O´Brien added the conversion for 28-0, the perfect first half for the Tigers, a living nightmare for the Rhinos.
Five minutes after the restart the twelve men of Leeds were over the line for their first try of the game as Rhyse Martin took an Aidan Sezer short pass to bust between two defenders and ground. Martin was unable to add the extras, but the Rhinos had done what they needed and scored the first points of the half.
On forty-seven, and back to a full complement of players, Liam Sutcliffe found a massive gap in the Castleford defence after taking a Walker pass to run the angle and score. Martin added the conversion from wide to reduce the arrears to eighteen points.
But the mini fightback was over on fifty when Greg Eden intercepted a Sezer long pass and sprinted fifty metres to round behind the sticks with the O´Brien conversion taking the score to 34-10.
On sixty-four the Rhinos got their third, a second for Martin, as he took the ball five from the line and fended off one tackle before spinning out of a second to ground. He added the conversion for 16-34, the Rhinos still needing three converted tries.
Eden collected his second on seventy-four to remove any worries that the Tigers might have had of a late flick of the tail from the Rhinos. The ball was moved wide left for the flying winger to go in by the corner flag. O´Brien added the touchline goal for a final score of 40-16.
A great afternoon for the Tigers as they demolished the old enemy in their own back yard and added to the ever growing mountain of worries at Headingley. The half back combination was devastating and posed questions that the Rhinos couldn’t answer with Paul McShane controlling the play-the-ball and mesmerising the Leeds defence. The Rhinos, well they´ve a mountain to climb, and at the moment they are trying to do it in shorts, a vest and flip-flops.
Leeds Rhinos: Walker, Tindall, Briscoe, Sutcliffe (T), Handley, Sezer, Austin, Oledzki, Leeming, Prior, Bentley, Martin (2T, 2G), O´Connor. Subs: Dwyer (SB on 35), Smith, Gannon, Donaldson.
Castleford Tigers: Evalds, Eden (2T), Turner (T), Mamo (T), Faraimo, Trueman (T), O´Brien (T, 6G), Smith, McShane, Griffin, Edwards, Lawler (T), Westerman. Subs: Watts, Milner, Massey, Fonua.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-8, 0-10, 0-14, 0-16, 0-20, 0-22, 0-26, 0-28 : HT : 4-28, 8-28, 10-28, 10-32, 10-34, 14-34, 16-34, 16-38, 16-40 : FT.
Referee: Liam Moore.