Richard Agar had promised that as his key players returned from injury, Leeds Rhinos’ sluggish start to the new season would drift into the distance. Yet not even he could have predicted a result as emphatic as this, as the reigning Challenge Cup holders underlined their head coach’s beliefs here.
To put the magnitude of this victory – and Leeds’ poor start – into context, they had scored only 90 points in their first seven games of the season; only newly promoted Leigh had scored fewer. Here, they scored two-thirds of that tally in one night, as their attack clicked in scintillating fashion: just as Agar had insisted it would.
The return of key men Richie Myler and Zane Tetevano undoubtedly lifted Leeds, but just as they were excellent here, there are two sides to a scoreline like this. Castleford, arguably with one eye on next weekend’s Challenge Cup semi-final with Warrington, were blown away. It is ironic that with the turnstiles clicking inside rugby league stadiums once, Castleford’s defending resembled something similar here in each of the 11 tries they conceded.
The game’s opening try, scored by Castleford after just two minutes, could not have represented more of a false dawn. Jordan Turner’s magnificent solo effort broke the deadlock but what followed was almost complete one-way traffic in the opposite direction.
This would have been a doubly painful watch for Castleford fans – some of whom had left before the half-time hooter – because their chief tormentor was their former scrum-half Luke Gale. The England international was at his majestic best here; time and time again exploiting weaknesses in the Castleford defence, allowing his teammates to profit at almost every opportunity.
Gale’s game management enabled Leeds to instantly hit back from Turner’s try when Tom Briscoe crossed in the corner, before the centre then turned provider for Jack Broadbent to cross in the left corner. Matt Prior’s offload then sent Kruise Leeming over, and the hooker would later claim his second with the try of the half, a wonderful team move finished by Leeming to make it 32-6 at the break.
Before then, though, Leeds added two more tries of the highest quality. Gale was involved in the first, as his deft pass to Briscoe led to Myler crossing for a deserved try, before the Rhinos shifted the ball right on a rare occasion to find similar success, Rhyse Martin’s looping pass sending Luke Briscoe across. Castleford’s only response was tactical, as Daryl Powell withdrew full-back Greg Eden and half-back Danny Richardson. It made no difference whatsoever to Leeds’ momentum or the scoreline, though.
The gulf between the sides was best underlined by the first try after half-time, when Konrad Hurrell – hardly one of the quickest players on the field – chipped through and collected his own kick to extend the Rhinos’ lead. Worse was yet to come for the Tigers, as two more tries took Leeds past the 50-point margin in convincing fashion.
By the time they hit 50, the majority of the Castleford supporters in attendance had left, but the travelling support from Leeds still had plenty to cheer. Brad Dwyer’s clever finish from dummy-half caught Castleford’s timid defence off-guard, before further tries from Morgan Gannon, Tom Briscoe and Gale took them clear of the half-century in some style.
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.