An amazing start for the visiting Castleford Tigers proved, ultimately, too much to handle for the Leeds Rhinos, who couldn't muster enough to overcome the early deficit, and didn't lead at any point in the game.
Leeds began the game poorly, coughing up possession of the ball in 3 of their opening 5 sets. All the pressure poured forward from Castleford on the back of this, and the Rhinos couldn't make any metres with the ball when they managed to make it to their kicks.
The first try of the game came in the 8th minute. Grant Millington came crashing onto a flat ball on an angled run which caught Peacock with flat feet, and the Tigers forward sailed past Sutcliffe as the last line of defence for Leeds. Gale kicked the conversion for the Tigers to lead 0-6.
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It took a little over 3 minutes and the visiting side were in again. A baffling pass from Scott Moore at half back - the ball seemingly slipping from his hands - sent the Leeds goal line defence up too quickly, and Liam Finn slipped over the line from close range down the right hand side. Video referees Thaler and Ganson ruling that the ball was grounded correctly. Gale kicked the conversion once more for a 0-12 lead after 12 minutes.
The kicking game of the two sides was proving the difference at this point, with Castleford winning the battle. It wasn't long before their third try was on the board. Ablett jumped out from dummy half and Shenton, the Tigers' captain, was quick to pull the ball away from the Leeds player and towards his own line.
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He quickly gathered and raced down field; the try being awarded by the video referees once more. Gale kept up his 100% kicking record and the Tigers led 0-18; scoring more than a point per minute at this rate.
Almost from the kick off, the game began to swing. Leeds found themselves making metres easier, and pinned Castleford onto their own line for the first time. A Castleford knock on and a succession of penalties for Leeds started to build pressure, but solid goal line defence and poor attacking options kept the Rhinos scoreless.
The breakthrough for the Rhinos came on 26 minutes. Ablett got the better of Gale from 10m out and crashed over the line too easily for the Tigers' liking; a play far away from the expansive methods they had up-to-now been attempting. Sutcliffe kicked for 6-18.
It took Leeds 12 minutes to score their first 3 tries of the game; some 3 minutes more than their counterparts. Their 2nd and 3rd came from Hall and Cuthbertson respectively. Poor defence on the right edge saw Castleford outnumbered some 6-to-2 and Hall had an easy stroll over in the corner. Cuthbertson's try had much in common with Ablett, spinning away from a tackle to score under the posts. Sutcliffe missed the 1st and succeeded with the 2nd of these conversion attempts.
The sides went in at half time with Castleford just in front at 16-18.
The break came at the right time for the Tigers, whose energy was visibly declining at the close of the first half. They came out and started the second the better of the two teams.
On 43 minutes they were awarded their first penalty of the game; a result of a high tackle by Stevie Ward. On the resulting play, a feign to kick the ball to the right saw Castleford switch the ball back to the left, and the unsuspecting blindside defence was caught napping, and Solomona slipped into the left hand corner. A brilliant touchline conversion put Castleford 16-24 in front.
Leeds knew the clock was ticking, and the game was every moment moving further away from their grasp. The Tigers continued their pressure but the next points on the board came from Leeds. A failed intercept from Milner gave the Rhinos a scrum on the Tiger's line, and straight from the scrum Keinhorst scored his 2nd try in as many games for Leeds, getting the better of the outside of Jake Webster. Sinfield, now on from the substitute bench, converted to reduce the margin to 22-24.
That proved to be the final try for the home side, though it seemed for a while that they had the better of the visiting side. Castleford now appeared reduced to clinging on to the minor lead they had, and Leeds were never pressed into their own half of the field.
It was only by the best goal line defence that they could muster that Leeds were kept out. A penalty on 69 minutes for interference forced Leeds to opt for 2 points, which Sinfield routinely slotted over for a 24-24 game; the exact score of last season's encounter at Headingley.
Successive knock ons by Leeds put Castleford with enough play the balls to set up for the one point, but the ball to Finn, who slotted over the drop goal, came from an unorthodox shift from right to left and back again. The point stood, however, and Castleford were back in front at 24-25.
The nail in the coffin came just a minute later. A huge, towering kick from Gale had Ash Handley doubling back, and Solomona pressing heavily in his eye line no doubt put the young winger off. As soon as the ball was dropped, Solomona pounced over the line and score. Gale's kick was necessary to stretch the scoreline to a 2 try game, and he converted for his 6th from 6 attempts.
Leeds never again threatened the Tigers' line. The final moments were played out with Castleford putting the ball into touch and running the clock down. The game ended with a 24-31 scoreline to the Tigers, with Leeds academy turned Castleford player Luke Gale being awarded the Man of the Match honours for his efforts.
Leeds Rhinos: Sutcliffe, Handley, Watkins, Keinhorst, Hall, McGuire, Burrow, Singleton, Aiton, Peacock, Ablett, Ward, Cuthbertson (subs) Sinfield (c), Yates, Walters, Leuluai
Tries: Ablett, Hall, Cuthbertson, Keinhorst
Castleford Tigers: Roberts, Gibson, Webster, Shenton (c) Solomona, Finn, Gale, Lynch, Moore, Millington, Holmes, McMeeken, Massey (subs) Milner, Moors, Boyle, Bailey
Tries: Millington, Finn, Shenton, Solomona (2)
Goals: Gale (6)
Drop Goals: Finn
Referee: James Child
Video Referees: Ben Thaler, Steve Ganson