Leeds Rhinos 14-8 Castleford Tigers: Highlights, player ratings and talking points

For the second home game in a row Leeds needed a late try from one of their halfbacks to seal a vital West Yorkshire derby win to keep their play-off dreams alive.

This time it came courtesy of Aidan Sezer whose last minute try ended Castleford’s season and sees Leeds finish fifth ahead of a play-off battle against Catalans next week.

Highlights:

Castleford stand up defensively in first half
Going into the game considering all of Castleford’s injury woes which culminated in a side without the natural balance you’d want in terms of ball players, ball runners and work horses, it was noted that they’d need a huge amount of effort to overcome Leeds and they demonstrated that in the first half with some terrific defence. Yes, Leeds and the Tigers weren’t exactly executing very well but the Tigers defended their line admirably as if it was a play-off game shutting down openings and often forcing errors.

Fonua paves the way for first points
It took till the 51st minute until the first points of the afternoon were registered and they remarkably went to Castleford despite the amount of defending they had to do. They came via a penalty unsurprisingly after a terrific Mahe Fonua break as he bust tackle after tackle. The penalty was quite controversial as Leeds were adjudged to have caused a knock on at the play the ball due to not leaving the ruck promptly enough but a few minutes earlier a similar instance was not penalised when the roles were reversed. Nonetheless Leeds should have defended better.

The floodgates open
That seemed to finally open the floodgates as from the very next set a lovely break up the middle and terrific support play from Jake Mamo saw the centre turned fullback race to the corner for the first try of the game and what a try it was. Maybe not worth the 54 minute wait but a lovely try all the same to put Cas in poll position in the play-off hunt.

A massive tackle on a massive man
It’s rare that a prop is a team’s most threatening attacking option but if anyone was going to score for Leeds this afternoon it looked like Mikolaj Oledzki who looked destined to score from Aidan Sezer’s inside ball. But as he romped through the gap a desperate tackle hauled him down. He did get an offload away but by then the chance had gone.

Hardaker hauled down
Leeds again looked destined to finally get on the scoreboard when a lovely move set Zak Hardaker down the left wing. He had support on his inside but it was possible Kruise Leeming was in front of him so instead of passing he elected to go on his own. He got passed Mamo but a diving tackle saw him lose the ball just shy of the line.

Hardaker the hero
Zak Hardaker’s relationship with Leeds and Castleford is a curious one. He made his name at Leeds, fell out with the club joining Castleford where he tormented them till he was dropped dramatically for the Grand Final against Leeds resulting in his move to Wigan. He then found his way back to Leeds and when the dream of Old Trafford was slipping away from them, it was him who came up with the big play to change the game. It was a moment that echoed a try he scored here for Cas against Leeds in 2017 as he was given the ball by Richie Myler from a kick, found his way through a gap and teed up Kruise Leeming for Leeds’ first try which coupled with Rhyse Martin’s goal levelled matters again.

Sezer settles it
It was all set for drop goal-a-thon but as Leeds made their way up the field they weren’t interested in one despite it being the last minute instead getting the six with Mikolaj Oledzki busting through finding Richie Myler who set up Aidan Sezer for a dramatic winner.

Talking Points:

Errors galore
It was clear very early on that no matter who the victor was they’d have to be much better next week if they want to make it beyond the first week of the play-offs. Neither side executed well in a frantic game where the pressure could be felt during every attack with players pushing passes when they simply weren’t on and poor execution in key moments. Completion is a must in play-off rugby so Leeds will have to change that next week if they want to cause Catalans problems.

Under pressure
As aforementioned, there was a great deal of pressure on both teams that you could clearly see having an effect upon proceedings. It was prompting plenty of errors but also some heroic defence from both teams. Although it nearly undid both teams Leeds may be better for it next week as they’ll have already played in a play-off scenario unlike their opponents who rested plenty of players this week. They may just be more acclimatised to the pressures of play-off rugby but they’ll certainly have to stop the errors.

A clash of styles
It was certainly a frustrating watch in the first half and that was largely down to the fact that the game couldn’t find any rhythm for a couple of reasons. The first of course is the errors both sides kept coming up with but the next was the clash of styles. Leeds routinely looked to speed the game up as Castleford looked to slow down proceedings. It makes a lot of sense because Leeds’ attack flourishes when at pace whilst Castleford without their playmakers were looking for more of a forward battle.

Leeds shot to pieces
The Rhinos looked tired, their execution looked tired and at times they were caught cold by the Tigers. Their fatigue became clear when key players began going down with injuries. First it was Ash Handley, then Brad Dwyer which meant Leeds were without two of their main attacking weapons. It wasn’t long until Blake Austin had to start moving out wide playing with a hip injury. It shows that Leeds have maybe left themselves too much to do this year with a shoddy start to the year making every game must win for a period which is energy sapping for sure. Add to it the amount of injuries and of course self inflicted suspensions and it makes for an energy devoid side. Goodness knows who they’re going to go to France and win next week.

Character sees Leeds through
Although if they show the character they showed to find a way to win then why can’t they? This afternoon was as tough as an experience Leeds could have experienced and when they were 8-0 down with 10 minutes to go their season looked over and yet they managed to find a way to win having not looked like scoring for most of the game they conjured up two terrific tries to swing the game.

Player Ratings:

Leeds Rhinos
16 Richie Myler – 7
20 Tom Briscoe – 6
33 Zak Hardaker – 8
4 Liam Sutcliffe – 7
5 Ash Handley – 6
6 Blake Austin – 6
7 Aidan Sezer – 6
8 Mikolaj Oledzki – 8
9 Kruise Leeming – 6
10 Matt Prior – 6
11 James Bentley – 7
12 Rhyse Martin – 6
13 Zane Tetevano – 7
Substitutes
14 Brad Dwyer – 6
17 Cameron Smith – 6
21 Morgan Gannon – 6
24 Jarrod O’Connor – 6

Castleford Tigers
4 Jake Mamo – 6
5 Bureta Faraimo – 7
21 Alex Sutcliffe – 6
17 Mahe Fonua – 7
2 Derrell Olpherts – 7
23 Greg Eden – 6
9 Paul McShane – 7
15 George Griffin – 7
12 Adam Milner – 6
25 Suaia Matagi – 6
10 George Lawler – 6
37 Alex Mellor – 7
13 Joe Westerman – 7
Substitutes
22 Daniel Smith – 6
28 Brad Martin – 6
29 Sam Hall – 6
32 Cain Robb – 7

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