Leeds' chances of finishing top of the Super League dwindled last night at The Jungle as Castleford gave themselves a glimmering hope of ending their own season strongly.
The weakened Tigers caught their visitors, the leaders for so long this season, completely cold in the early stages and it was only for a short period in the second half that Leeds looked capable of repairing the damage.
A Leeds team with Liam Botham making his senior debut on the left-wing made a dismal start.
Castleford might have admitted that their play-off chances are looking remote, but they began as the more enthusiastic side by far and were rewarded by two tries in the first 12 minutes, both from kicks. Their first came from Ryan Hudson getting out from dummy-half at putting boot to ball for Mitch Healey to touchdown.
Then Healy himself hoisted a high kick which Mark Calderwood seemed to have caught, only to lose it to Darren Rogers on the way down to the ground.
Calderwood then made a hash of another kick, letting it bounce off him into touch for a Castleford scrum. Again Leeds were punished, with Andy Lynch forcing his way over from close range despite three tacklers, leaving Leeds relieved that Healey could not convert any of the three tries.
It got worse for the Rhinos with a try which for once did not involve a kick, Healey instead putting Dale Fritz through an embarrassing hole and this time adding the goal.
Equally weak tackling allowed Francis Maloney to score against his first professional club from Healey's pass. Healey's second goal made it a 24-point lead and Leeds' first hint of a fightback came immediately before half-time when Tom Saxton knocked-on and, from the resulting pressure, Willie Poching and Francis Cummins smuggled the ball to Calderwood for a try in the corner.
That gave Leeds some momentum after the break with Andrew Dunemann sending Pete Senior through a gap for a converted try that edged them closer. Just after the hour, McGuire sold a gorgeous little dummy to steal over and Sinfield's second goal made the game wide open once more.
Leeds had left themselves with too much to do, however, and another perfect pass from Healey sent Michael Eagar in for the try that made it safe, with Matt Adamson's score from McGuire's pass too late to make any difference.
Castleford: Saxton; Pryce, Gibson, Eagar, Rogers; Maloney, Healey; Sykes, Godwin, Lynch, Mellor, Fritz, Hudson. Substitutes used: Spears, Hepworth, Huby.
Leeds: Mathers; Calderwood, Cummins, Senior, Botham; McGuire, Dunemann; Ward, Diskin, McDermott, Furner, Adamson, Sinfield. Substitutes used: Burrow, Poching, Feather, McDonald.
Referee: I Smith (Oldham).Reuse content