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Cas and Leeds seek West Yorkshire bragging rights as Rivals Round kicks off

Craig Lingard has been involved in plenty of derby matches as a player and coach. It is experience which will serve him well when Castleford Tigers kick off the Betfred Super League’s Rivals Round at home to Leeds Rhinos on Thursday.

As one of Batley Bulldogs’ greatest players and a one-club man as a professional, the former full-back was regularly at the heart of the action for the fiercely-contested showdowns with near-neighbours Dewsbury Rams and has seen those games from the point of view of being the favourites as well as the underdogs.

It is more a case of the latter for the Tigers when the Rhinos visit the Mend-A-Hose after a difficult start to the Super League campaign which has seen them lose all of their first five games, but head coach Lingard knows there is nothing like victory in a derby clash to make everything feel better.

“The derbies when I was at Batley changed a bit throughout my career,” Lingard said. “I think my first Batley-Dewsbury derby was in 1999 and it was in that period where Dewsbury were really successful in the Championship, so it had been a long time since Batley had consistently beaten them.

“It might even have been my first Batley-Dewsbury game, and it was a Friday night and we beat them 14-12 and the response and the reaction from the players and supporters that night was massive for us because it was one of the only times in recent years Batley had won that game.

“Certainly, something you wanted to do playing in those derby games was get one over on the opposition. It gives you the bragging rights at work the following day, doesn’t it?”

Castleford triumphed in this corresponding fixture last year, although were beaten on both of their visits to Headingley in 2023 and will once again have their passionate home fans making the night as uncomfortable as possible for the city slickers visiting the tight confines of The Jungle.

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Highlights of Castleford Tigers’ 14-8 win over Leeds Rhinos at the Mend-A-Hose Jungle in the 2023 Betfred Super League season.

Rhinos head coach Rohan Smith is embracing the challenges of playing away to Castleford in a West Yorkshire derby such as the small pitch, cramped away changing room and the vociferous support the Tigers will receive from the terraces at one of rugby league’s traditional town venues though.

He is wary of the dangers posed by Lingard’s side too, who got a first win of the year under their belts in the Betfred Challenge Cup last Saturday away to his old club Batley, having been impressed by some aspects of their attacking play in Super League so far.

“I think the away players enjoy a bit of the banter and being under pressure and being close to the noise,” Smith, whose team have won three and lost two in Super League so far in 2024, said. “That’s one of the drawcards of the English game, the crowd being right on top of the pitch and adding to the atmosphere, so it’s something we’ll embrace.

“I’ve watched all of their games this year and they’ve competed really well in some of the games despite the scorelines, and really challenged the opposition with some of the shapes and plays they’ve been putting on.

Rivals Round 2024 fixtures

Thursday, March 28 Castleford Tigers vs Leeds Rhinos 8pm Sky Sports Action
Friday, March 29 Hull KR vs Hull FC 12.30pm Sky Sports Action/Main Event
St Helens vs Wigan Warriors 3pm Sky Sports Action/Main Event
Saturday, March 30 Warrington Wolves vs Catalans Dragons 3pm Sky Sports Action/Main Event
Salford Red Devils vs Leigh Leopards 5.30pm Sky Sports Action
Sunday, March 31 London Broncos vs Huddersfield Giants 3pm Sky Sports Action

“It hasn’t all stuck for them, but they’ve definitely challenged and stretched a lot of teams, and the score hasn’t been reflective of performances in lots of cases.

“We’re prepared for a tough, hard battle on a small pitch on a Thursday night. It’ll probably be raining and all that stuff, so it’s going to be a rugged battle.”

Given he hails from nearby Wakefield, Lingard has an appreciation of what these derby matches mean in the Calder Valley as well and will be impressing that on his players, several of whom will be experiencing it for the first time on Thursday evening.

At the same time though, the 46-year-old is conscious of raising the emotional stakes too highly, particularly with the more stringent punishments for dangerous tackles being handed out this year, and has a way of making sure the right balance is struck for cooler heads to ultimately prevail.

Picture by Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com - 23/03/2024 - Rugby League - Betfred Challenge Cup Round 6 - Batley Bulldogs v Castleford Tigers - Heritage Road, Batley, England - Castleford's Jacob MIller congratulated on his try against Batley.
Image: Castleford were able to celebrate their first win of 2024 when they beat Batley in the Challenge Cup

“It’s just making sure they know what their roles are,” Lingard said. “We prep them as best as we can on the threats which are going to come from Leeds, the way we think we can catch Leeds, and what we need to do to be better on the day.

“Let’s not forget the game has changed now – certainly this year more than any other year. If you’re getting off your line and whacking someone around the head, you’re going to be sat down for 10 minutes or the whole game, so what we can’t do is let the emotion get the better of us and have people coming off the line and whacking people’s heads off.

“It’s not like it was in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and even ’90s where you tried to take the opposition out of the game, we’ve got to make sure we’re doing it in a controlled and clinical way.

“It’s giving them the information we can, let them know the relevance of a derby game, but make sure we’re calm and calculated and execute when we need to execute.”

Watch every match of the 2024 Betfred Super League season, including Rivals Round, Magic Weekend, the play-offs, and men’s, women’s and wheelchair Grand Finals, live on Sky Sports. Also stream with NOW.

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