Rugby League: Raper and Fritz produce final flourish to spoil the Leeds party

Leeds Rhinos 16 Casteford Tigers 23
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LEEDS' SEASON ended in disillusionment as the guerrilla fighters of the Super League play-offs showed a courage that would not be denied.

Pegged back to 16-all after seeming to be on their way to victory, Castleford found extra reserves of determination and composure in the last few minutes to win through a drop goal from their man of the match, Aaron Raper, and a first try for three years from Dale Fritz.

Raper, the younger brother of the Castleford coach, Stuart Raper, was massively influential in Cas taking their early lead. The Australian hooker probed Leeds' right flank and eventually released Brad Davis, whose pass found Dean Sampson. Michael Eagar picked the ball up on the bounce to score the games' first try.

Raper was doubly instrumental in the second, first gaining possession in the Leeds danger zone with a 40/20 kick and then finding space once more to connect with Adrian Vowles' angled run and send his captain over.

Danny Orr landed both conversions and Leeds' defence had started where it left off at St Helens, by leaking points all over the place. They had their opportunities in attack, but their handling suffered from the cardinal sin of standing too shallow, and their only glimpse of a try came when Brad Godden touched down after Francis Cummins had already knocked on.

Even when Iestyn Harris had a relatively simple invitation to kick a penalty he contrived to miss it, but Orr put Castleford further ahead with a kick after Lee Jackson had knocked the ball away in a tackle.

Leeds finally got on the scoreboard before the break, Harris putting over a rather more difficult penalty after Vowles had ripped the ball away from Jackson, and they should have been right back in it at the start of the second half if Adrian Morley had passed to Godden instead of going it alone. As it was, there was an exchange of penalties before Leeds suddenly clicked into gear in the final quarter.

Cummins did amazingly well to hang on to a rocket pass from Anthony Farrell for one try, and then got on the end of a run around move between Daryl Powell and Godden for a second converted try to bring Leeds level.

Cas, with two days less to prepare for this clash, could have faltered at this stage, but, after Orr had missed a penalty, Raper slotted over a single point that might have been enough to win it. Just to make sure, Fritz darted over from dummy half with three minutes to play. "To lift themselves after last week was absolutely outstanding," their proud coach said. "We've beaten the two top sides in England in the space of five days."

Graham Murray, in his last game in charge of Leeds before returning to Australia, was inclined to blame the referee, Stuart Cummings, for this sad finale to his successful two years at the club. "I hope he can sleep tonight," he said. In the cooler light of this morning Murray might think that does Castleford less than justice.

Leeds Rhinos: Harris; Sterling, Senior, Godden, Cummins; Powell, Sheridan; Masella, Speak, Fleary, Morley, Farrell, Glanville. Substitutes used: Jackson, McDermott, Hay, St Hilaire

Castleford Tigers: Flowers; Gay, Maloney, Eagar, Rogers; Orr, Davis; Sampson, Raper, Sykes, Harland, Fritz, Vowles. Substitutes used: Tonks, Hepi, Pickering, Wells.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).