Newcastle’s St James’ Park witnessed a thrilling but ultimately disappointing Magic Weekend clash between Leeds Rhinos and Castleford Tigers. In a nail-biting encounter, the Rhinos let slip a two-point lead in the dying moments, succumbing to a 26-24 defeat against their fierce rivals.
At halftime, Leeds held a slender advantage with a 12-10 scoreline. The second half began positively for the Rhinos as Rhyse Martin and Mikolaj Oledzki crossed the try line early on, seemingly putting their team in a commanding position. However, the Tigers had other ideas, launching a remarkable comeback with Alex Mellor and Jason Qareqare leading the charge.
Leeds took to the field wearing their special tartan kit, paying homage to the late Doddie Weir, a Rugby Union player who had graced Newcastle’s Falcons during his career while bravely battling Motor Neurone Disease. Coach Rohan Smith made some notable changes to the matchday squad, bringing back Blake Austin and James Bentley from injury, as well as introducing Luis Roberts for his fourth appearance of the season. Mikolaj Oledzki replaced Tom Holroyd from the bench due to a pre-match injury, while Rhyse Martin moved to the centres to cover for the injured Harry Newman, with James Donaldson starting at second row.
The Rhinos wasted no time in making an impact, taking the lead within four minutes when Derrell Olpherts claimed his second try of the season. The relentless pressure exerted by Rohan Smith’s side paid off when Gareth Widdop fumbled a high bomb, allowing Leeds to regain possession. Capitalising on the opportunity, the Rhinos executed a slick passing combination, culminating in the returning Blake Austin lofting a perfectly timed pass for Olpherts to stroll over the try line unchallenged.
Although Leeds continued to push for more points, inspired by an electrifying run from Nene Macdonald, it was Castleford who swiftly responded through Jordan Turner. Turner exploited a gap in the Rhinos’ defense and touched down to bring the score to 10-6 after just 13 minutes. Castleford’s promising young talent, Elliott Wallis, then extended their lead further by scoring on the right flank.
As the game progressed, Castleford grew in confidence under the guidance of Widdop and Jacob Miller. The Tigers came agonisingly close to securing another score, but the resolute defence of the Rhinos held firm, denying Kenny Edwards as the video referee examined the play in detail.
With halftime approaching, Leeds desperately needed a try to regain momentum, and substitute James Bentley answered their call. On the last tackle, Bentley executed a perfectly weighted grubber kick, which eluded Widdop and fortuitously found its way to Cam Smith and Bentley, who touched down for a crucial try. Martin successfully converted, bringing the halftime score to 12-10 in Leeds’ favour.
Unfortunately for Leeds, the second half unfolded in a similar fashion to the first. Castleford, orchestrated by Widdop, swiftly equalised through Mellor. Widdop’s pinpoint pass found Mellor, who evaded the clutches of Martin and Olpherts to dive over the try line.
As the tension mounted and the crowd held their breath, both sides squandered scoring opportunities. Macdonald was forced into touch as he attempted to outmanoeuvre the Castleford defence, while Wallis was denied a second try by the video referee following a daring acrobatic finish in the corner. Finally, a golden opportunity presented itself for Leeds. A powerful surge from Bentley allowed the back-rower to offload the ball to Oledzki, who bulldozed his way over the line, extending Leeds’ lead to ten points.
However, victory was snatched away from Smith’s side as they conceded two late tries. Mellor, facing his former club, powered his way over the line for his second try of the match. Moments later, a swift wide play culminated in winger Qareqare grounding the ball, securing a 26-24 victory for the Tigers.
Despite the heartbreak, the Leeds Rhinos demonstrated resilience and showcased their attacking prowess throughout the match. They will undoubtedly regroup and strive to bounce back in their forthcoming fixtures, determined to emerge stronger from this setback.