A twenty-seven game 2022 Super League season came down to a single game for the Leeds Rhinos and Castleford Tigers as they met in a play off for the play offs as sixth placed hosted seventh at the Emerald Headingley Stadium with a victory prolonging the season for the winners and most likely sending them to the south of France next weekend.
The bookies fancied the Rhinos to get the points against a Castleford side decimated by injuries and on a downward spiral of form after they were ´sitting pretty´ earlier on in the season. The bookies gave the visitors a fourteen point start on the handicap coupon despite Castleford having won two out of the three previous meetings this season, including giving the Rhinos an early exit from the Challenge Cup.
It was a nervous and scrappy start from both sides, befitting of a nervous occasion. Ash Handley went closest to opening the scoring on five minutes but under great defensive pressure he was unable to get the ball onto the ground.
A late tackle on Mikolaj Oledzki on thirteen from Suaia Matagi saw the Tigers man yellow carded.
The clock tipped around to twenty minutes with no score and both sides were increasingly nervous. The Rhinos had most of the chances but were making errors on the last pass on every set of six. The longer the game wore on the more frustrated the Rhinos were getting and the more confident the Tigers were becoming.
Mahe Fonua was held up over the Leeds line on thirty-nine as the clock wound down and the hooter sounded for half time, the sides still scoreless.
Ash Handley didn’t make it out for the second half after sustaining an injury towards the end of the first half, but the two sides started the second half in the same error strewn manner.
On forty-seven Alex Sutcliffe was held up over the line as Leeds were forced to defend back.
When the Tigers were awarded a penalty on fifty-one, Paul McShane kicked the penalty goal to break the deadlock.
Within two minutes Jake Mamo found a way to break through the Leeds line and spring home from forty metres. McShane added the conversion and from nowhere the Tigers had an 8-0 lead.
Zak Hardaker lost the ball in the challenge with the line begging on sixty-three, it was starting to look like it wasn´t to be the Rhinos afternoon.
Terrific defence from Castleford on seventy-one prevented the Rhinos scoring a try but resulted in a penalty which Rhyse Martin kicked to reduce the arrears to six points at 2-8 with seven and a half minutes remaining.
On seventy-five Hardaker shrugged off a tackle on his own twenty and broke to halfway before drawing the Tigers full back and finding Kruise Leeming in support to sprint over and score by the left upright. Martin added the conversion to level the scores at 8-8. There was just under four minutes remaining.
Eden attempted a drop goal from thirty metres out on seventy-eight but he pushed his kick wide of the right upright. With a minute left Oledski bust the Tigers line before finding Aiden Sezer in support to score from thirty metres to secure a miracle Rhinos win. Martin added the conversion, the Rhinos into the play-offs with a 14-8 win.
The Rhinos scraped through to the play-offs, riding their luck at the end against an exhausted Tigers side. They will now travel to the South of France for the second time in a fortnight to take on the Catalans Dragons, the Tigers can pack their bags and head off on a pre-World Cup vacation. Of they want to progress any further then the Rhinos will need to be much better that they were this afternoon.
Leeds Rhinos: Myler, Handley, Sutcliffe, Hardaker, Briscoe, Sezer, Austin, Oledzki, Leeming (T), Prior, Bentley, Martin (2G), Tetevano. Subs: Dwyer, Smith, O´Connor, Gannon.
Castleford Tigers: Mamo (T), Olpherts, Fonua, Sutcliffe, Faraimo, McShane (2G), Eden, Matagi (SB on 13), Milner, Griffin, Lawler, Mellor, Westerman. Subs: Smith, Martin, Hall, Robb.
Score Progression: (SB) : HT : 0-2, 0-6, 0-8, 2-8, 6-8, 8-8, 12-8, 14-8 : FT.
Lead Exchanges: Castleford – Square - Leeds.
Referee: Ben Thaler.