Leeds Rhinos put in a magnificent performance to claim their 8th Grand Final performance at Old Trafford, defeating a lacklustre Castleford Tigers in their maiden final appearance by 24 points to 6. Danny McGuire especially was instrumental in his side’s victory, picking up the Harry Sunderland man of the match award after an all round awesome performance which saw him score two tries and kick two drop goals.
The first real opportunity of the game fell to the Castleford Tigers, who earned a penalty 10 metres from the Leeds line with Singleton failing to clear the ruck. After much huffing and puffing though, Gale’s grubber through was picked up brilliantly by McGuire in his final Rhinos appearance, snuffing out the threat.
The Tigers appeared to start the brightest, causing Leeds plenty of problems. A Stevie Ward knock on in the Cas half was picked up by Michael Shenton who put Eden through a gap, however Super League’s top try scorer lost control of the ball after a superb cover tackle, bringing the play back for the initial error.
Despite this, Leeds broke the deadlock after 11 minutes, with departing Danny McGuire instrumental in the build up. A Sutcliffe kick through saw Greg Minikin trapped in goal. The resulting set saw McGuire place a perfect cross field kick which was claimed well by Tom Briscoe, out-jumping Zak Hardaker’s replacement Jy Hitchcox to score the opening try. Kallum Watkins slotted over the extras from out wide to give the bookies outsiders an early 6-0 lead.
The Rhino’s began to grow into the game more and more as time went by, and believed they had scored again on the 18 minute mark after Watkins pounced on another brilliant McGuire grubber, however on reference to the video referee, it was chalked off with a knock on whilst grounding being the deciding factor.
Castleford worked hard to get back into the game, and almost put themselves on the scoreboard through prolific full back Greg Eden on the half hour mark. A high, hanging Luke Gale bomb saw the chasing Ben Roberts taken out by Briscoe, awarding the Tigers a penalty 10 metres out. The ball was spread wide to Eden, but a magic tackle from McGuire dislodged the ball with the line begging.
The Tigers again thought they had crossed the whitewash for their first try of the Grand Final, through the diving Jy Hitchcox, however the video referee was again called into action, ruling it out due to an obstruction in the build up. Ryan Hall lost the ball in the greasy conditions 20 metres from his own try line, giving Cas good field position. This was then bettered by a penalty for a ball steal on Webster. From the tap, Gale kicked through for Hitchcox who appeared to ground it, but the video referee agreed with on-field referee James Child that Watkins had been obstructed.
In the blink of an eye, Leeds again thought they had doubled their advantage after a Tigers knock on around the halfway mark, however it was ruled out after Tom Briscoe infringed Paul McShane in the act of grounding the ball. On the free play, McGuire placed an opportunistic kick over the top for Briscoe to chase, only for the winger to push the Tigers man out of the way, bringing the play back for the original knock on.
With the first half seemingly at an end, the enigmatic McGuire slotted over a one pointer to extend the lead to seven points on the half time hooter, capping off a fantastic individual half for him, and meaning the Tigers needed two scores in the second period to claim victory. It was more or less a dream half for the Rhinos, with Castleford possibly rueing turning down the opportunity to kick a penalty goal on 3 separate occasions.
The beginning of the second half saw much of what was evident in the first, with the Leeds defence brilliantly managing to stifle the best attacking side in the league, with the Tigers frustration being shown through a number of knock-ons.
Once again, Leeds looked the more composed of the two sides, with the Rhinos crossing for their second try 12 minutes into the half. A monstrous high bomb by Joel Moon was lost under pressure by stand in fullback Greg Eden, with the man of the moment – Danny McGuire – on hand to scoop up the loose ball and dive over. There was some controversy as to whether Parcell was offside and in 10 metres of the knock, however the try was awarded. It would be interesting to see whether Zak Hardaker would have fared differently in that situation, however a bit harsh on Eden who was having a decent game until that point.
The Rhinos looked full of confidence against a side who had beat them on the past 8 occasions, and increased their lead to 17-0 on the 60 minute mark, seemingly ending the game as a contest. Young fullback Jack Walker produced a good break to leave Leeds attacking close to the Cas line, with the resulting play seeing the ball spread wide through the hands of McGuire and Moon to send Tom Briscoe over for his second of the night. The pass did look forward on first glance and through video replays, however the Rhino’s got the rub of the green with it not spotted by the officials, who up until then had arguably not put a foot wrong.
Castleford did get a rare attack on the Leeds line after receiving a penalty for an escort off the ball, however in typical fashion of the night, the Tigers couldn’t keep hold of the ball and the chance went begging.
Also in typical fashion, Leeds took their chances and well and truly put the game to bed with McGuire claiming his second try of the final to push Leeds 23-0 in front. A last tackle grubber from Burrow, on his final appearance before retirement, was lost by the Castleford man, with Matt Parcell toe poking the ball for McGuire to dive on in front of the Leeds faithful.
Castleford believed they had finally crossed for a try with seven minutes remaining, with Eden collecting a nice pass to score, however the video referee once again ruled out the try after Hitchcox put a foot in touch in the act of passing inside, proving that when it rains, it really does pour.
Minutes from time, Leeds once again asserted their dominance in the match, with the Harry Sunderland man of the match winner, Danny McGuire slotting over another drop goal just to rub salt into the Tigers wounds and seal a victory many deemed unlikely.
Castleford did score a consolation try on the hooter to prevent them from being nilled, with Alex Foster collecting a Paul McShane kick through, however it was far too late to have any real significance, with Leeds claiming their 8th Grand Final Triumph and sending McGuire and Burrow out on a high. It was a hard lesson for the Tigers to learn after leading the Super League most of the year, however in Finals football, you need to be able to perform on the night, and Leeds Rhinos certainly did that.