Despite the talk of another fundamental change to the 2020 season being on the immediate agenda, both Richard Agar and Daryl Powell were focussed on the first Leeds v Castleford derby in fifteen months as the Rhinos looked to make ground on the Catalans Dragons while the Tigers were intent on making life as difficult as they could for their neighbours.
Both sides were at near full strength and it was certain to be a heated affair, despite the chilly conditions, at Emerald Headingley. Leeds were favourites with the bookies, the Tigers getting a ten-point start on the handicap coupon. But this was the ‘derby’ and anything was possible.
A nineteen-point win would lift the Tigers above the Giants and into seventh, but Leeds knew that a win wouldn’t be enough to see them into the top four but would ease the pressure coming from Hull FC behind them.
Liam Watts stunned the Rhinos with a try in the first two minutes after Richie Myler knocked-on a towering kick. Watts was on hand to ground a cheeky little Danny Richardson grubber kick, by the posts. Richardson added the extra two for a 6-0 lead.
Ava Seumanufagai took the Rhinos level after Kruise Leeming stripped the ball and on the next play the big man powered down the centre, with three Tigers defenders unable to stop him. Rhys Martin added the conversion for 6-6.
Alex Mellor was hit off the ball by Oliver Holmes on twenty-two and on the second tackle from the resulting penalty Richie Myler was held up over the line. Leeds forced a drop out thanks to the boot of Luke Gale but lost the ball on the first carry.
It was a bad-tempered affair with referee Grant having to read the riot act on several occasions. Oliver Holmes appeared to kick out in a fracas with Myler and the Tigers loose forward was shown red, Castleford down to twelve for fifty minutes.
Five minutes from the interval and the target of the Tigers aggression for most of the half, Luke Gale, took the ball five out and after dropping the shoulder went under two tacklers to get the ball on the line. Martin added the extras, the Rhinos 12-6 ahead.
A suicidal play by the Rhinos on the final hooter, a kick to the wing by Cameron Smith, gifted the ball to Greg Eden who raced eighty metres to outpace the chasing defenders and score by the sticks. Richardson added the conversion to level the scores.
The twelve men opened the second half scoring as Greg Eden scored a trademark flying try in the left corner as the Leeds tacklers tried to knock him into touch. Richardson added the extras for an 18-12 lead.
Konrad Hurrell stormed the Tigers line on fifty-three but when he looked certain to score, he hit the upright padding and the Tigers defenders managed to hold him on his back. Later in the set Cam Smith went close but was again thwarted by excellent Castleford defence.
Myler was held up on fifty-seven and Matt Prior on sixty-two and Smith a few seconds later as the Rhinos laid siege to the Tigers line. Finally, Liam Sutcliffe found some space wide left to go through a gap off a Myler pass, fend the last defender and get the ball on the ground. Martin was unable to add the conversion, Leeds still two points behind.
Olpherts lost the ball on his own twenty on sixty-eight and as the Rhinos moved the ball quickly to the right Tom Briscoe did brilliantly to take the Hurrell pass and get the ball down acrobatically by the corner flag. Martin added the touchline conversion, the Rhinos into a four-point lead.
Six minutes from time Seumanufagai made another barnstorming run and from the next play the ball Martin took a pass from Rob Lui and ran the angle to dive over. Martin added the conversion, the Rhinos now 28-18 ahead.
Cheyse Blair was gifted a penalty try on seventy-eight when Konrad Hurrell interfered with him catching the ball after McShane put in a kick to the corner. Richardson added the conversion for 24-28 with seconds left on the clock. But the Rhinos held on, forced a mistake, and ran the clock down to a four point victory.
This was a good old-fashioned blood and thunder local derby with neither side giving an inch and plenty of massive personal battles across the pitch. The Tigers went to Headingley to batter the Rhinos and single out their former idol, Luke Gale, for special treatment. But it was the Rhinos skipper who had the last laugh as his forwards made the ground and the back scored the all important tries to take the win against the twelve men from down the road.
Leeds Rhinos: Myler, Briscoe T (T), Hurrell, Sutcliffe L (T), Handley, Gale (T), Lui, Seumanufagai (T), Leeming, Prior, Mellor, Martin (T, 4G), Thompson. Subs: Oledzki, Dwyer, Donaldson, Smith.
Castleford Tigers: O’Brien, Eden (2T), Blair (T), Clare, Olpherts, Trueman, Richardson (4G), Watts (T), McShane, Hepi, Foster, McMeeken, Holmes (SO on 29). Subs: Sene-Lefeo, Smith, Moors, Peachey.
Referee: Tom Grant.
Half Time: 12-12.
Full Time: 28-24.
Venue: Emerald Headingley Stadium, Leeds.