The tables can turn very quickly in Super League: just ask anyone associated with Castleford Tigers and Leeds Rhinos. Richard Agar had promised that, as his key players returned from injury, Leeds’ sluggish start to the season would slowly be overturned. But not even he could have predicted a night quite like this.
Nor would most Castleford supporters as recently as a fortnight ago, when their side were booking their place in the Challenge Cup semi-finals and starting the new league season with four victories from five games. But that, in a nutshell, is rugby league for you. Fortunes can change in the blink of an eye and how the Tigers will be hoping they do so again in the next seven days.
But more on Castleford later. This was very much Leeds’ night, as they reignited their season with their best result and performance of the season. Agar had stressed throughout Leeds’ sluggish start to 2021 that their fortunes would improve as their main stars returned, and the difference the likes of Richie Myler and Zane Tetevano made here was clear. For perhaps the first time in 2021, this was a complete, team performance from a Rhinos side still with plenty to play for this season.
Each of the 11 tries they scored were outstanding and Castleford had no answer for what Leeds – in particular their outstanding half-back Luke Gale – threw their way. This could well be a night Leeds look back on as one where their season came to life. “It was a tremendous exhibition of attacking rugby,” Agar said. “This will do us good; we’ve shown little bits this year but not like this.”
Amazingly, given the final score, Leeds fell behind after two minutes when Jordan Turner crossed but that was where Castleford’s scoring for the evening started and finished. By half-time six unanswered tries swung the contest firmly in the Rhinos’ favour, with some home fans already heading for the exits before the hooter.
Gale was chief architect of Castleford’s downfall, having a hand in five of those six tries. Jack Broadbent, Tom Briscoe and Myler all benefited from Gale’s influence down Leeds’ left-edge attack, with Kruise Leeming and Luke Briscoe also crossing to make it 32-6 by the interval. When Konrad Hurrell added another shortly after half-time, it was painfully evident that the Tigers were out of contention.
Daryl Powell’s gamble to rest a number of key players before next week’s Challenge Cup semi-final with Warrington backfired spectacularly, and with that game arguably their final chance of winning silverware before Powell leaves at the end of the season, a third consecutive defeat here, plus the manner of it, will have concerned Tigers supporters.
“I’m a proud man and that was so disappointing that it’s hard to put into words,” Powell said afterwards. “Some of those defensive efforts are unbelievably unacceptable and those boys won’t be in the team for the semi-final. It is as simple as that. It’s a terrible loss, but it isn’t the end of the world.”
Not that Castleford fans will feel that way after this, though. Even when the result was secure, Leeds did not relent. The final quarter saw further tries for Tom Briscoe, Morgan Gannon and Gale, who capped a sublime individual display with a magnificent long-range try. By then, though, an already sparse home terrace was practically empty.
Castleford Eden; Olpherts, Mata’utia, Blair, Clare; Turner, Richardson; Watts, McShane, Smith, Sene-Lefao, Griffin, O’Neill. Interchange Martin, Peachey, Hepi, Matagi.
Leeds Myler; L Briscoe, Hurrell, Broadbent, T Briscoe; Sutcliffe, Gale; Oledzki, Leeming, Prior, Mellor, Martin, Tetevano. Interchange Dwyer, Vuniyayawa, Donaldson, Gannon.
Referee L Moore.