AT the end of a week in which a dozen of their players were selected for England, champions Leeds Rhinos emphatically illustrated just why that is the case.
Eleven of those selections were involved last night as the brilliant West Yorkshire side inflicted Super League leaders Warrington’s first defeat of the year, and a first away loss since last April.
But it was rookie Liam Hood who stole the show after grabbing the match-winning try.
The 20-year-old hooker scored on his debut to put the gloss on the champions’ 36-14 win at Castleford a week ago and was the hero last night after pouncing for the all-important try that takes the Rhinos to within a point of the leaders.
Warrington, who were without Brett Hodgson, Michael Monaghan and Chris Bridge, fought back from 12-0 down to draw level by the break and they trailed by just two points until Hood seized on a defensive blunder by Richie Myler on 67 minutes to seal their fate.
Young Leeds centres Zak Hardaker and Kallum Watkins both scored tries to celebrate their call-up into England coach Steve McNamara’s elite training squad, while captain Kevin Sinfield kicked five goals to move to within 15 points of becoming the highest scorer in the club’s history.
Leeds, who ended Warrington’s Grand Final hopes in last September’s play-offs, started and finished the game in control but in between were forced to withstand a furious Warrington onslaught.
Persistent drizzle created a greasy ball, which clearly contributed to the early handling errors by Garreth Carvell and Stefan Ratchford which put the visitors under enormous early pressure.
The greasy conditions made for an unusually high error count on both sides while it was equally physical, Adrian Morley catching Rhinos captain Sinfield with a flailing arm, Gareth Carvell giving Jamie Peacock an unseen ‘facial’ and Watkins crunching Richie Myler with a high tackle.
Warrington’s famed line defence came under the most consistent pressure, however, as Leeds probed time and again.
It stood up to the test, though, denying Watkins as he thundered close and then a clutch of defenders combined to drag Danny McGuire down inches short.
Next, after some wonderful footwork from Watkins and a sublime pass, Jones-Bishop thought he had got over at the corner but the video referee ruled Chris Riley had just done enough to nudge the winger into touch.
The warning was there, though, and Leeds eventually made the breakthrough on 22 minutes when, after another Warrington handling error, McGuire’s trickery saw him dummy and step past Ben Westwood from close range.
Sinfield improved and did so again five minutes later when a handling movement to the left involving him and the influential McGuire saw winger Ryan Hall cut back inside, entice defenders and send Hardaker weaving over.
But the scores merely stung the Wolves into action and they drew level with two converted tries in a seven-minute spell before half-time. Half-backs Lee Briers and Myler combined to get Matty Blythe over on the burst before back-to-back penalties set up the position for Chris Hill to take Briers’s short pass and claim his first try for the club.
Briers added both goals to tie the scores but the Rhinos were back in front within four minutes of the re-start.
The latest of a series of penetrative runs from the ever-dangerous Rob Burrow established a great attacking position and Watkins produced a superb finish after taking Webb’s long pass, bouncing off the attempted tackle of Ryan Atkins.
Sinfield’s touchline goal re-established a six-point advantage but it was all square again three minutes later when Warrington took full advantage of a Leeds handling error inside their own 20-metre area, with Westwood forced his way over for a try goaled by Briers.
When Wolves hooker Micky Higham was pulled up for a high tackle on Burrow, Sinfield edged his side back in front with a 30-metre penalty but the visitors, who lost Ratchford through injury early in the second half, thought they had gone in front for the first time on the hour.
It was a huge moment of controversy when Briers palmed the ball back for Myler to touch down after his own high kick had eluded full-back Webb but video referee Ian Smith ruled the try out for offside.
The television official also disallowed a try to Leeds winger Jones-Bishop but he ruled in favour of Hood when he pounced on a handling error by Myler, who made a hash of trying to catch McGuire’s kick.
Leeds: Webb; Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Hardaker, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Pitts, Delaney, Ablett. Substitutes: Bailey, Clarkson, Griffin, Hood.
Warrington: Ratchford; J Monaghan, Blythe, Atkins, Riley; Briers, Myler; Morley, Higham, Carvell, Waterhouse, Wood, Westwood. Substitutes: Grix, Cooper, Hill, McCarthy.
Referee: R Silverwood (RFL).