Brad Dwyer kicked an incredible 40 metre drop goal in golden point in extra time to earn Leeds a dramatic 21-20 win over Castleford.
The Tigers had fought back from 20-4 down in the final quarter but were made to pay for a missed conversion by Callum Turner and Paul McShane’s inexplicable decision to run the ball from yards out in the final minute of regular time.
It was the first drop goal of Dwyer’s career and it was the first golden point period live on Sky Sports, as well as being only David Furner’s second win as Rhinos coach.
Leeds got off to the perfect start when Konrad Hurrell powered his way over inside three minutes, though it didn’t lead to an open first half.
Liam Watts got Castleford on the board on 22 minutes, though they trailed 10-4 at the break as Leeds hit the front through Ash Handley, before they had a try chalked off for obstruction.
The game lit up in the second half as the Tigers came out on the front foot. Off the back of a few drives, Jacob Trueman’s kick was intercepted by Kallum Watkins who broke away and though he was chased down by Callum Turner, Leeds couldn’t be stopped.
Liam Sutcliffe got up quickly from the play the ball, passed to Jack Walker who off a left foot step put Sutcliffe around the full-back and he slid over.
The momentum was with Leeds and four minutes later they would get another try, Dwyer taking it to the line and dummying through before being tackled and getting his arm free to pop the ball up for Trent Merrin to crash over, the former Kangaroo banging his chest in what was no doubt a message about the speculation linking him with a move away.
Leeds managed the game well until the hour but then Castleford hit a quick double salvo of their own to get them back in the game.
The Rhinos did look fragile out wide and they were punished when Hurrell was attracted inside to an attacker creating space for Greg Minikin to stride through and slide over.
Then a blistering break by Matt Cook set the field position for the Tigers’ third try, eventually scored by former Rhinos back-row Chris Clarkson after Grant Millington had got the ball out under attention from two men close to the line.
Leeds were hanging on and eventually they would break, a neat kick by Trueman was pounced on by another ex-Rhino Alex Foster, who beat Hurrell in the foot race to touch down just before the dead ball line.
Turner missed a kickable conversion but Castleford had the wind in their sails and they were soon back down that end.
Leeds stood firm and soon the Tigers turned to drop goals, and Trueman thought he had landed the killer blow only to see referee Ben Thaler blow a penalty for Watts obstructing Dwyer in chasing down to block the drop goal.
A rushed effort by Sutcliffe from long range at the other end was as close as Leeds went, and it looked like Castleford would pinch it at the end, with Trueman begging for the ball 15 metres out, McShane ran it on the last thinking he could exploit a gap in the defence, and the hooter sounded meaning it was extra time.
The hosts crucially won the toss, and though they only made it 60 metres up the field, an ugly Dwyer effort arrowed its way towards the posts and just went over the crossbar to earn Leeds the win to rapturous applause from the Headingley crowd.
Leeds: Walker, Briscoe, Watkins, Hurrell, Handley, Sutcliffe, Myler, Peteru, Dwyer, Oledzki, Smith, Merrin, Jones-Buchanan. Subs: Parcell, Singleton, Donaldson, Holroyd.
Tries: Hurrell, Handley, Sutcliffe, Merrin. Goals: Sutcliffe, Smith. Drop goals: Dwyer
Castleford: Mata’utia, Clare, Minikin, Shenton, Eden, Trueman, McShane, Watts, Milner, Millington, Sene-Lefao, Foster, Holmes. Subs: Moors, Cook, Turner.
Tries: Watts, Minikin, Clarkson, Foster. Goals: Turner 2.
Three talking points
Defensive lapses almost cost Leeds
They won’t care right now, but Dave Furner will surely be looking at the defensive lapses that invited Castleford back in to the game. Poor sliding defence, and maybe a lack of trust, from a very square Konrad Hurrell allowed Greg Minikin in for the first try, while twice Nathaniel Peteru fell off tackles leading to breaks for the Tigers.
Myler cops unfair criticism
Richie Myler had a fine game for Leeds, tackling well and also kicking well in the second half. He was visibly trying to lift the team throughout, taking that mantle as leader. While he isn’t the controller of a game that some would like, the criticism he often receives is unfounded. Leeds are in a transitional phase of that there is no doubt, but one of their problems is not Myler.
Castleford’s fearsome front-row
Castleford are struggling for bodies and look a bit disjointed at half-back, but their two giant props Liam Watts and Grant Millington led by example and it was their grunt that helped get them back in the game. Watts has been a revelation this year and that has earned him a place in the England squad, while Millington is the most improved player in Super League over the past five years.
Two sides that have a lot to do if they are to challenge for honours at the business end of the year. It’s a blow for Castleford that they don’t have Luke Gale, let alone losing his replacement in Jordan Rankin, but you can tell that Daryl Powell isn’t happy with how they’re going right now.
Leeds won’t be getting relegated, we know that for sure. They need to build their team around the outstanding Jack Walker, but a lot depends on who else in the team can stand up. Liam Sutcliffe is a good player, suffering perhaps from the heightened expectations created by his predecessors. A bit of confidence, especially with their goal line defence, will go a long way, though it is odd to see players like Matt Parcell and Adam Cuthbertson marginalised, as Furner tries to create his own identity. Front-row is an area they need to improve, though Brad Singleton steadied the ship when he was on.