Castleford went in to their crunch clash with Leeds on Friday night buoyed by three consecutive victories. Leeds too were in good spirits following a brilliant 20-28 victory over St Helens the week before. However, ever since the Tigers' 46-6 hammering away at Saints in round one, Rugby League fans have questioned whether Castleford can maintain their position at the top after a superb 2017. In response to that opening round defeat, the Tigers have gone about their business quietly, with a 100% record following wins over Widnes, Hull FC and Salford and now Leeds.

Yet, in those three matches prior to the Leeds game, Castleford have let the opposition sneak back into the game after appearing much the dominant team.

Castleford were never able to shrug off a determined Widnes side whilst Hull FC always looked as though they could trouble the Tigers' line. In what was Castleford's round four - at home to Salford - they were up 20-0 at half-time and cruising. But, their only points in the second half came from a Luke Gale penalty as the Red Devils won the second forty 2-8.

Likewise, Castleford absolutely steamrolled Leeds for the opening 25 minutes in Friday's game before a Rhinos fightback left Castleford clinging on to victory. Though the Tigers held on for a priceless 24-25 win, the inability to close the game down after such an emphatic start would not have pleased head coach Daryl Powell, nor did it allow for comfortable viewing from the Castleford fans crammed into the South Stand at Elland Road.

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Mentality issue?

After being 20-0 and 0-24 up in their past two matches, perhaps the Castleford players felt like they had the match won already. Whilst Salford were pretty dire for most of their fixture with the Tigers and were unlikely to overturn such a large deficit, to let a Leeds side back into the game like they did on Friday night was pure suicidal.

The Rhinos are not reigning champions for nothing and after appearing shellshocked from the Tigers' early onslaught, Leeds slowly clawed their way back into the game. Although Leeds should never be written off, at 0-24 down they should have been taken to the cleaners in the same way that Castleford demolished them 66-10 at the start of 2017 after being 18-0 up within 25 minutes.

Change in tactics?

Against Salford and Leeds, Castleford showed glimpses of the style of play that earned them rave reviews in 2017. For 25 minutes on Friday night, the Tigers looked like an incredibly motivated side with some of their play reminiscent of last year.

James Clare's try in the eighth minute, for example, epitomised the Tigers' off-the-cuff, impressive style that won them the league by a distance in 2017.

But, 0-24 up and Castleford lost all the momentum - something changed; the Castleford forwards stopped with their offloads and the Tigers began being conservative in attack rather than continuing their onslaught. Whether or not the word had trickled down from Powell to play it safe, Leeds took advantage and the Tigers began to panic. And, only a "throwaway drop-goal" - as Powell stated in his post-match interview - saved them the game. Perhaps Castleford could not live with the early pace that they themselves had set, but the Tigers need to learn how to close these games down if they are going to be challenging for silverware at the end of the season.

Miserable second-half

In the second forty minutes, Castleford did not look like scoring as they attacked the South Stand where thousands of their fans were sat. They were held up over the line on about three occasions whilst errors in decision-making often blew some of the only chances they had. It was lucky then that Leeds' centre Kallum Watkins could only convert two of his side's five tries - the last attempt of which came in the 78th minute after a controversial Ryan Hall try. The Castleford fans had very little to cheer about in the second-half as they looked on in disbelief as their team somehow nearly lost a 0-24 lead.

Priceless two points

However, whilst Castleford almost snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, they clung on for what was a priceless two points. The match had been billed as a "Grand Final rematch" with the pre-match hype and atmosphere at Elland Road being like that of a final. For some Castleford cynics, this "final mentality" meant that their side would lose after their less than impressive record in finals in recent years.

Yet, the Tigers proved that they will still be there or thereabouts when the Super 8s and play-offs come around later in the year. Whilst Leeds' injuries have been well-documented, Castleford were without first-team stars Michael Shenton, Jesse Sene-Lefao, Greg Eden, and Joe Wardle with new recruit Liam Watts still banned. As such, the Tigers still have a lot of class to come back into the side that will inevitably improve them across the board. Plus, the first 25 minutes of Friday night's fixture was like looking at 2017 all over again; replicate that style of play for the full 80 minutes and Castleford will once more be a side to fear in 2018. #RugbyLeague #coyf #SLLeeCas