Castleford Tigers bounced back from their cup defeat and made it seven successive wins over Leeds Rhinos with a hard fought 23-12 success at Headingley.
The Tigers gifted two tries to their hosts with big mistakes, but otherwise their defence was outstanding as they showed their Super League title credentials.
In the build-up Rhinos coach Brian McDermott had said that they were coming for Cas and they did in the early stages, but they found Daryl Powell’s men in defiant mood as they stood up well to what Leeds could throw at them.
Castleford held a slender 8-6 half-time lead after 40 minutes full of intensity and controversy.
The Tigers wasted early pressure before Leeds were given their first try in bizarre circumstances.
Matt Parcell dived for the ball onto Joel Moon’s grubber kick over the line, but missed it or got a feint touch. Ben Roberts gathered only to then attempt a pass and see it snapped up by Ash Handley for a try goaled by Liam Sutcliffe.
The video referee had plenty to check and although some angles showed Parcell had knocked on another did not and the score was allowed as there was insufficient proof to rule out the on-field decision from referee Robert Hicks.
Cas replied with their first try on 13 minutes as the ball was moved swiftly on their left edge and Greg Eden touched down for his 34th touchdown of the season.
There was controversy again as Paul McShane had lost the ball in the build-up, but the referee ruled it had been stripped by a Rhinos player. Danny McGuire complained too vigorously to Hicks and was sin-binned.
Gale added the goal to level the game, but the Tigers failed to take advantage of their extra man despite further pressure as their attacking play lacked a bit of fluency.
McGuire forced a drop-out when back on the field, but good defence from Cas this time kept their line intact.
On the Tigers’ next attack they were given a penalty for offside and Gale kicked the goal to make it 8-6.
Another controversy followed soon after when Eden appeared to have gone over for another try after Tom Briscoe had spilled Gale’s high kick. But Alex Foster was deemed to have been offside and although he did not interfere with the play he was within 10 metres of the Rhinos player going for the ball and the video referee ruled no try.
Cas made a stunning start to the second half when Zak Hardaker rounded three men in his own half and found clear space. He then rounded home full-back Sutcliffe for a fantastic solo try. With Gale goaling there was now breathing space with an eight-point advantage.
Another try followed when Greg Minikin did well to offload under pressure, Eden kicked the ball back and Gale came up with a perfectly judged grubber kick for Grant Millington to touch down. Gale’s conversion made it 20-6.
Sutcliffe was held up over the line as Leeds looked to hit back, but at the other end a dangerous Tigers attack was only ended as Roberts’ kick was just too far for his chasers.
The Rhinos swiftly charged upfield on the next set and were gifted a second try, this time as McGuire’s kick led to confusion between Jy Hitchcox and McShane and Adam Cuthbertson pounced on the ball. Sutcliffe goaled to make it 20-12 and that was how it stayed until the 70th minute.
Cas were largely in control, however, as Gale’s kick forced a drop-out and Minikin came close to reaching McShane’s kick ahead following one of a number of Leeds handling errors.
Gale kicked a penalty after Jamie Jones-Buchanan had roughed up Adam Milner in a tackle that was too keen.
And it was Gale, against his former side, who scored the last point with a drop-goal late on to seal a solid win for the Tigers against opponents who had appeared to have had all the advantages going into the game, but were ultimately guilty of making too many errors.
Scorers - Leeds: Tries Handley, Cuthbertson; goals Sutcliffe 2. Castleford: Tries Eden, Hardaker, Millington; goals Gale 5; drop-goal Gale.
Leeds Rhinos: Sutcliffe; Briscoe, Watkins, Hall, Handley; Moon, McGuire; Galloway, Parcell, Singleton, Jones-Buchanan, Ward, Ferres. Subs: Cuthbertson, Garbutt, Mullally, Walker.
Castleford Tigers: Hardaker; Hitchcox, Webster, Minikin, Eden; Roberts, Gale; Millington, McShane, Sene-Lefao, Foster, McMeeken, Milner. Subs: Massey, Springer, Holmes, Patrick.
Referee: Roberts Hicks.