“It’s gutting, we’ll probably look back and say we choked really, a little bit.”
It was inexplicable, surprising and completely out of character, but Castleford simply failed to turn up at the Super League grand final on Saturday. The best side all season, the Tigers failed to show any of their attacking guile and brilliant ball movement that was their hallmark this year.
Shorn of Zak Hardaker, with driving rain all day, Castleford failed to deal with the weather or a determined display by Leeds. The Rhinos kept the pressure on all game and didn’t relent one bit. Castleford made an amazing 20 errors over the course of the 80 minutes, saving their worst performance of 2017 for the decider.
“It’s disappointing, there was too many errors on our side,” Castleford prop Matt Cook admitted.
“It’s gutting, we’ll probably look back and say we choked really, a little bit. Full credit to Leeds, they kicked well and turned us around well and stayed the most composed. The error count was ridiculous – we made way too many errors.
“It hurts but we’ll remember it, try and remember the good times we had this year, it has been a good year. But to finish on that note is really sickening. Hopefully it will drive us to success next season.”
Leeds played the bad conditions better, curbing some of their natural instincts to play in straight and smart. The Rhinos still made 13 errors, but they managed to make the Tigers pay dearly for theirs. Brian McDermott’s men used their big-game experience, and an outstanding kicking game, to get the job done. Cook refused to blame the wet conditions for Castleford’s dire display.
“The conditions weren’t great, but it’s the same for both sides and they obviously managed those conditions better than us,” the front-rower said.
“I don’t know you can put it down to nerves, anything, just nothing really came off for us today. It was crazy. Sometimes that happens and it’s heart-wrenching. It wasn’t the Tigers that we’ve seen all season. But we’ve worked hard to get here this year and we’ve got to take some positives out of it and use it as a catalyst for next season.”
Of Castleford’s 17-man squad only skipper Michael Shenton had played in a Super League grand final at the home of Manchester United before. In contrast, 12 of Leeds’ team had played and won at Old Trafford. Carl Ablett had made appearances in six past grand finals, Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire eight, Ryan Hall five, Jamie Jones-Buchanan seven and Kallum Watkins two.
That experience of grand finals and big stages clearly paid off. All Castleford can do now is lick their wounds and learn from Saturday.
“It’s hard to put in words really,” Tigers forward Mike McMeeken said.
“I’m pretty devastated, we worked hard all season and we dished up one of our worst performances of the season. We only have ourselves to blame. Leeds were the better side on the day and that’s what it’s all about really. You have to turn up on the day and we didn’t. They deserved the win.”