In 2023, Leeds Rhinos bid farewell to their fans with a spectacular 46-0 victory over Castleford Tigers at Headingley. This marked the conclusion of their season on a high note.
David Fusitu’a was the star of the night, achieving a hat trick. Additionally, Luke Hooley, Jack Sinfield, Derrell Olpherts, Sam Lisone, and Sam Walters, in his final appearance for Leeds, also made their mark on the try line during this triumphant Yorkshire derby.
For his last squad selection of the season, Smith made adjustments following their previous loss to Catalans. Sam Walters, returning from a one-match suspension, played his ultimate game for the Rhinos. He had risen through the ranks since joining the club’s Academy in 2019. Debuts were granted to Alfie Edgell and Tom Nicholson-Watton, who were named on the bench by Smith. Edgell had played a significant role in Leeds’ Academy Grand Final victory a year ago and earned his spot in the first team alongside Nicholson-Watton, who was also a product of the Academy. Unfortunately, Tom Holroyd (knee) and Cameron Smith (elbow) were sidelined due to injuries.
The fireworks ignited the Headingley crowd from the very start, setting the atmosphere abuzz. The Rhinos dominated the first half with a flurry of tries. Despite early pressure from the Tigers near the Leeds line, the Rhinos capitalized on a knock-on by Greg Eden. Sam Walters, Rhyse Martin, and Jack Sinfield all came close, but a wide play found James McDonnell in a vulnerable position, resulting in a turnover.
Twelve minutes in, Castleford’s defence crumbled as Luke Hooley broke the try drought for the Rhinos with a brilliantly executed move. Back-to-back sets on the Tigers’ line saw Danny Ward’s side struggle to contain the efforts of Harry Newman and his teammates, who cleverly exploited gaps to gain ground. The ball was swiftly moved left through the hands of Walters and Martin to Luke Hooley, who astutely deceived the Cas defence before scoring the opening try.
The visitors had their first opportunity to score when Liam Horne attempted a dive from dummy half, only to be thwarted by a determined Leeds defence. Sensing danger, the Rhinos extended their lead further with a play by David Fusitu’a. Another penalty against the Tigers provided valuable territory for the home side. Quick thinking from Newman led to a pass down the short side, allowing Fusitu’a to outmaneuver Eden and score in the corner. Martin successfully converted both tries, bringing the score to 12-0 after 20 minutes.
Relentless pressure in the first half led to two more tries for the Rhinos, courtesy of errors from the Tigers. Following a strong charge by Oledzki, a knock-on by Eden granted the Rhinos a fresh set of six. Handley and Hooley sensed an opportunity out wide, enabling Derrell Olpherts to evade Jason Qareqare and reach the try line.
Just before half-time, Jack Sinfield redeemed himself after an earlier poor kick, intercepting Jacob Miller’s pass and scoring under the posts. Martin’s successful conversion further bolstered Smith’s side, securing a confident 22-0 lead at the break.
The second half began inauspiciously for the Tigers as Broadbent fumbled the restart. Seizing instant possession, Sinfield’s well-placed kick allowed Fusitu’a to rise above Eden, securing his second goal of the game.
Tempers flared as Liam Watts and Lisone clashed following a late hit on Sinfield by the Castleford prop. Both were subsequently sent to the sin bin. With a penalty in their favor, Leeds found themselves once again on the Tigers’ try line, where Fusitu’a completed his hat trick with the assistance of an offload from McDonnell and a flick-on from Newman.
With a six-try lead, Leeds sailed smoothly towards victory. Lisone, upon returning to the field, added another try as he supported Sinfield’s decisive run on the last tackle. Man of the match Walters joined in on the scoring spree, capitalizing on Hooley’s clever play to secure a try in his farewell match at Headingley.
Ward’s side believed they had finally broken through with under ten minutes remaining, as Horne attempted to pounce on a kick from Austin. However, the referee disallowed the try, maintaining the Tigers’ scoreless record. Lawler’s late charge was also held up, sealing the impressive 46-0 win for the Rhinos.