Rugby League: Slick Leeds stroll home

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The Independent Online
Leeds. . . . 40

Castleford. .12

BOXING DAY at Headingley brought on a severe attack of the what-might-have-beens. A 20,000 crowd and a Leeds team finally living up to the sum of the parts playing Castleford, who had usurped the role of Yorkshire claimants to Wigan's crown, promised much. Sadly, Castleford simply fell apart.

Alan Tait, superb at full-back for Leeds, summed up the sense of relief in the aftermath of an exhilarating performance. 'That's why I was so keen to join Doug Laughton here,' he said. 'His motto has always been the same. He doesn't put any pressure on you to play in particular way. He gets good players together and tells them to get on with it.'

That attitude has produced its quota of disasters during Laughton's year as Leeds coach. But at least the season is ending in the style he had in mind when he went out and bought the likes of Tait, Kevin Iro, Craig Innes, Andy Gregory and Ellery Hanley.

Against Castleford, all those big guns were firing and the effect was devastating. With Gregory and Garry Schofield throwing the ball around with inspired precision, strong runners like Iro and Innes had a field day. Astonishingly, it was the first time in his first year of rugby league that Innes had been on the winning side in two consecutive Premiership games.

That just about encapsulates 1992 for Leeds, and Laughton was not getting carried away about a flourish at the scrag-end of the year. 'It's been a long time coming,' he said, 'but we've won nothing yet.'

Nor are Leeds likely to, this season at least. There is still too much brittleness in their collective personality for that. But when everything clicks for them, they will be a glittering set of spoilers.

For Castleford, who desperately needed to win to stay on Wigan's shoulder, it was a disillusioning day. The tactics that have served them so well during an eight-match winning streak were purring quietly during the first half. It was not hard to imagine them outclassing Leeds as the game went on.

Instead, they folded in the face of some spectacular handling. 'We made the mistake of thinking it was going to be easy,' Darryl Van de Velde, their coach, said. 'When you do that, you get your bum kicked.'

Castleford's championship hopes are unlikely to recover from that kicking. For Leeds, there is a splendid irony; the side who were brought together with the explicit ambition of rivalling Wigan have given them a generous push towards the title and may give them a few more. Help that Wigan could well do with after yesterday's mauling by St Helens.

Leeds: Tait; Fallon, Iro, Innes, Gibson (Irving, 16); Schofield, Gregory; Molloy (O'Neill, 62), Lowes, M O'Neill (Anderson, 61), Dixon, Mercer, Hanley.

Castleford: Anderson; St J Ellis, Blackmore, Smith, Wray; Coyne, Ford (Nelson, 55); Crooks, Watson, Sampson (England, 77), Morrison, Ketteridge, Nikau.

Referee: D Campbell (Widnes).