What Nikau takes he then gives away

Rugby League: Leeds 28 Castleford 16
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Leeds 28 Castleford 16

There is generally something happening in the vicinity of Tawera Nikau, the Castleford loose forward who has been linked with Leeds at regular intervals over the last few years, writes Dave Hadfield.

What was not expected was that the Kiwi international would apparently switch allegiance in mid-game, setting up the two tries that threatened to spoil Leeds' Boxing Day and then presented them with the points that keep them at least technically alive in the Championship.

Two examples of Nikau's deceptive handling brought a warm glow in the first half to a Castleford side that has seemed to be in cold storage for much of this last winter season.

His first pass sent Adrian Flynn galloping through a gap to score in the corner despite the last- ditch tackles of Anthony Gibbons and Marvin Golden.

The second, in the 16th minute, gave Lee Harland almost too many options, with an open line ahead of him and a man in support on either side. After some hesitation, Harland made his way over and Castleford were 8-2 ahead.

Leeds enjoyed an abundance of possession, but an unlikely looking half- back combination of George Mann and Tony Kemp inevitably lacked something in the guile department. They eventually turned their pressure into a try after 25 minutes, however, when Francis Cummins kicked through and Jim Fallon took advantage of the defence's hesitation to dive in and score.

Fallon figured again when a foul on him near the line produced a penalty which Leeds chose to run rather than kick, a decision vindicated when Carl Hall went over to give them the lead for the first time immediately before half-time.

Leeds' man-of-the-match Neil Harmon was largely responsible for the try that consolidated that lead after some inconclusive sparring in the third quarter. Both he and Garry Schofield, restored to the side after a six- week absence because of injury, did well to keep the ball alive to enable Golden to cross in the corner.

The game was not entirely safe, until Nikau demonstrated that his knife- edge passing can cut both ways. Retrieving Schofield's kick behind his own line, he carried it to safety before serving it up neatly for Cummins, who merely had to put it down; as near to an own try as the laws of the game allow.

There was no way back for Castleford after that bizarre moment, although Jamie Coventry did scoop up Ian Smales' pass to claim a third try for them. Golden's second try two minutes from time rounded it off.

Schofield's successful return was counter-balanced by the loss of Kemp in his comeback game. His recurrence of an arm injury will keep him out of the Regal Trophy semi-final against Wigan on 6 January.

The other point worth pondering was that a crowd of 18,000 turned up to watch two sides with very little left to play for, in real terms, in their last Boxing Day derby. It will take a lot of promotional effort to match that on a balmy summer evening.

Leeds: A Gibbons; Fallon, Cummins, Hall, Golden; Mann (Field, 68), Kemp (Shaw, 45); Harmon, Lowes, McDermott (Howard, 57), Morley, Field (Schofield, h-t), Forshaw.

Castleford: Steadman; C Smith, Goddard, Flynn, Coventry; T Smith, Stephens; Crooks (Sampson, 56), Darley (Maskill, 69), Sykes, Harland, Schick (Smales, 60), Nikau.

Referee: C Morris (Huddersfield).