Castleford Tigers survived a sensational second-half fightback from the Leeds Rhinos to secure a nerve-wrecking 25-24 victory in a thriller at Elland Road.
In front of 23,246, a record Leeds crowd in the Super League era, Castleford made a blistering start and found themselves 24-0 ahead after just 23 minutes thanks to tries from Jamie Ellis, James Clare, Alex Foster and Junior Moors.
Kallum Watkins caught a high kick and stretched out for the line, before Ash Handley scored a carbon copy on the opposite side of the field to reduce the arrears.
Tigers scrum-half Luke Gale kicked a 45-metre drop goal as the half-time hooter blared to increase the lead to 15- albeit not knowing just how crucial that one-pointer would be.
Despite being down to 12 men early in the second period, Rhinos winger Handley broke the line to score a brace, before Watkins used his upper body strength to dive over for his second on the right edge.
With time running out and the visitors seemingly having survived the onslaught thrown at them, Handley produced a moment of magic, flicking the ball to his outside back Ryan Hall to acrobatically score his first of the season.
However, Kallum Watkins missed his conversion and Brian McDermott’s side were unable to get close to their opposition’s line, allowing the Tigers to pick up their fourth consecutive win.
Tigers Quick Out Of The Traps
Although Daryl Powell will be infuriated by his side’s second half capitulation, he will know that their astounding start to the game secured the two points here.
Three-quarters of Elland Road fell silent as Ellis collected Luke Gale’s bouncing kick in behind to touch down under the sticks, before Jake Webster’s flick inside from the touchline promoted ‘Classy Cas’ to produce champagne rugby reminiscent of 2017, the ball thrown from left to right for Clare to dive over unopposed in the corner.
Alex Foster superbly claimed a high kick to add a third shortly after, before Junior Moors’ rampaging charge to the line added insult to injury.
The Tigers’ challenge for silverware last year was based on eye-catching attack. Nevertheless, Powell knows that they can’t afford to fall apart in the same manner as he saw at Leeds and not be punished by the top class sides.
Tonight, the Tigers got away with one.
Feisty Yorkshire Affair
In typical derby fashion, this blockbuster- billed by many as the clash of the season- saw the two teams lock horns in more than just one sense of the word.
Tempers boiled over on numerous occasions, with Luke Gale and Brett Delaney particularly aggravated by one-another during the first half.
Chris Kendall showed incredible experience to give Delaney a telling-off reminiscent of a headmaster disciplining a child, and managed to keep a tight rein on proceedings despite the tasty nature of the game.
He did need to dish out one yellow card to Brad Singleton for a high shot in the second period, but another referee could’ve very easily let the game simmer over far too much.
Man of The Match- Jamie Jones-Buchanan
He may have come out on the losing side tonight. Nevertheless, JJB delivered a performance full of pride, passion and ferocity.
In such a young Leeds outfit, the 36-year old needed to use every last bit of his experience and nous to show his exuberant team-mates the way forward throughout the 80 minutes.
Leeds may have lost, but their young crop of immensely talented stars will be all the wiser for this incredible experience. That, in part, is down to their never-say-die attitude, perfectly summed up by Leeds’ number 11.
Tries: Watkins 2, Handley 2, Hall
Goals: Watkins 2/5
Drop Goals: n/a
Tries: Ellis, Clare, Foster, Moors
Goals: Gale 4/4
Drop Goals: Gale
Leeds: Golding, Briscoe, Watkins, Handley, Hall, Moon, Myler, Mullally, Parcell, Singleton, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Delaney.
Substitutes: Walker, Smith, Oledzki, Walters.
Castleford: Clare, Cook, Ellis, Foster, Gale, Green, Hitchcox, Massey, McMeeken, McShane, Millington, Milner, Minikin, Moors, Roberts, Shenton, Springer, Trueman, Webster.
Substitutes: Moors, Cook, Trueman, Green.
Referee: Chris Kendall