LEEDS RHINOS will travel to KC Stadium for Friday’s Challenge Cup quarter-final as Super League leaders, but expecting to be pushed all the way by Hull after yesterday’s dress rehearsal.
Rhinos moved a point clear of St Helens thanks to a hard-fought victory, but it came at a cost as they lost three key players with injuries which could keep them out of the return in four days.
Stand-off Liam Sutcliffe (knee) and substitute prop Adam Cuthbertson (calf) will certainly be missed by Leeds if they fail to recover in time, but half-back Danny McGuire is their major concern.
He was on crutches following the match, with a foot in a protective boot, after being hurt in a second-half incident which resulted in the Leeds man and Hull scrum-half Marc Sneyd both being sin-binned.
Sneyd made a try-saving tackle, but then appeared to twist the ankle of McGuire, who was yellow-carded for lashing out.
For Leeds coach Brian McDermott, the sin-binning added insult to injury.
He said: “The kid makes a break and in an offensive advantage has his ankle twisted and rolled. Even the referee signalled that.
“In desperation to not have his ankle broke he kicks out to get the bloke off his ankle, that’s trying to break his ankle. He gets sin-binned for it.
“It worries me that we’ve got that wrong. The game’s got that wrong.”
McGuire will be assessed today, but McDermott said he is a major doubt for Friday.
The Rugby Football League’s match review panel will study the incident today.
Hull will have been encouraged by their ability to stick with Leeds for most of the game, but both teams will look to tighten their defence and be more clinical with the ball in the rematch.
The hosts were never behind, but could not shake off Hull – who lost Mark Minichiello to injury – and led by only four points with five minutes remaining.
Leeds opened the scoring, for the first time in four games, after six minutes of pressure when McGuire crossed after a one-two with winger Ryan Hall.
Sutcliffe converted, but Hull levelled on 18 minutes, Jordan Thompson stepping and then barging over from 10 metres out, Sneyd adding the extras.
Leeds scored two similar tries in the second quarter.
Zak Hardaker, who was back in the hosts’ line-up after two games out due to an ankle injury, kicked towards Hall, the ball was batted back and picked up by Jimmy Keinhorst and he put over Joel Moon.
Then, just before the interval, Curtis Naughton, who was recalled on Hull’s right-wing, spilled a high kick by McGuire and the alert Keinhorst swooped over, Kevin Sinfield kicking the first of his three conversions.
Other than their try, Hull’s best opportunity of the opening period came on the half hour when Sneyd made a break with Steve Michaels in support, but opted not to pass and lost the ball in a crunching tackle from Kallum Watkins.
Naughton atoned for his error by scoring five minutes after the resumption, the young winger diving over at the corner and putting the ball down one-handed for a spectacular finish from Richard Whiting’s pass.
There was no conversion and Leeds looked to have taken control 10 minutes later when Moon scored his second after quick hands by Sinfield, McGuire and Keinhorst on the final tackle.
But Hull stuck to their task and were back in the game on the hour when an outstanding offload from impressive prop Liam Watts sent Danny Houghton through a huge gap.
Sneyd’s second conversion made it a six-point ball game, but he was then sin-binned following his tackle on McGuire and Sinfield kicked the resulting penalty.
Hull again responded when Jordan Abdull put Fetuli Talanoa over with five minutes left, but the re-start bounced dead in goal, Hull’s drop-out failed to go 10 metres and Sinfield took an easy two points.
Then on the final play of the match the captain, who made an important contribution from the bench, put Ablett in for Leeds’s final try.
Of his team’s performance, McDermott said: “There was a couple of occasions when I could look at our team and say we need to be better defensively, a couple of soft misses, but they never give up, Hull.
“They have got enough quality there.
“They are going to be a very, very good team on Friday at their place.
“They are going to be full of enthusiasm I’m sure.
“They are going to have a huge reaction I should imagine,” he added.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker, Handley, Watkins, Moon, Hall, Sutcliffe, McGuire, Leuluai, Aiton, Singleton, Keinhorst, S Ward, Ablett. Substitutes: Sinfield, Walters, Cuthbertson, Peacock.
Hull FC: Shaul, Naughton, Sa, Talanoa, Michaels, Pryce, Sneyd, Paea, Houghton, Watts, Ellis, Minichiello, Thompson. Substitutes: Paleaaesina, Abdull, Whiting, Green.
Referee: R Hicks (Oldham).