AT TIMES this year Leeds Rhinos’ attack has looked to be lacking ideas and a cutting edge, but when they get it right they can be devastating.
Despite missing some key players due to injury, Rhinos showed how dangerous they can be by ripping Salford Red Devils apart in a blistering 24-minute spell in the first half.
From 6-6 towards the end of the first quarter, Leeds stormed into a 36-6 half-time lead and could afford to ease through a more even second 40 en-route to an eye-catching 50-24 success.
The win moved Leeds above Salford into second place on the Super League table, eight points behind leaders Castleford Tigers.
With two rounds remaining in the regular season they are four points clear of Wakefield Trinity, who are fifth and are on track to secure four home games in the Super-8s.
“It’s a good reminder of what we can be like,” coach Brian McDermott said of his team’s performance.
“In terms of offense, that’s as good as we’ve been for a long, long time.”
Captain Danny McGuire was a big influence for Leeds and his passing and kicking in the first half proved the 34-year-old is still among the best players in Super League on his day.
McGuire, who is out of contract at the end of the season, is close to making an announcement on his future and is understood to have had offers from rival clubs.
Hooker Matt Parcell also had a fine game and there was solid support from Stevie Ward – who played out of position at centre – and forward Adam Cuthbertson.
Salford set off at a rapid pace and were 6-0 ahead after as many minutes, through Josh Wood’s try and the first of four conversions from Michael Dobson.
Leeds replied on 14 when Ryan Hall raced diagonally over at the corner after terrific interplay between McGuire, Joel Moon and Stevie Ward who provided the final pass.
Kallum Watkins – arguably Leeds’s fourth-choice kicker – landed a superb conversion from the touchline and then provided the pass for Tom Briscoe’s try which edged Leeds ahead.
At that stage it looked an even contest, but Salford were left chasing shadows as Leeds hit their stride.
In the next set Moon and Jamie Jones-Buchanan worked the ball to Watkins, who dummied to Briscoe and nipped through a big gap.
The centre added the extras and converted again three minutes later after Parcell darted over from acting-half following a penalty near the line.
On 29 minutes Watkins was helped off – after lengthy treatment – and Junior Sau was sin-binned for a high shot. Watkins was knocked out and is set to miss Friday’s visit of fourth-placed Hull.
In the set from the penalty Hall batted the ball back from McGuire’s kick and Moon – now in the centres – gathered to go over. There was no conversion, but Cuthbertson made a break soon afterwards, Parcell was in support and Jones-Buchanan popped up on his shoulder to score.
And two minutes before the break McGuire kicked to the right, into the hole left by Sa’u’s absence and Briscoe read it well to go over for the visitors’ seventh try and the third while Salford were a man down.
Ben Murdoch-Masila rampaged over at the start of the second half, but on the hour Salford were caught offside in front of their posts and Jordan Lilley took the simple two to make it 38-12.
Dobson crossed from acting-half for a try which he also converted, but Anthony Mullally ended any prospect of a fightback by crashing over from Parcell’s pass, Lilley adding the extras.
Murdoch-Masila’s second try and Dobson’s fourth goal, completed the home scoring seven minutes from time, but in the final seconds Leeds tapped a penalty in front of the posts and Lilley, McGuire and Moon combined to send 17-year-old full-back Jack Walker over for his first Super League try, Lilley’s touchline conversion bringing up the half-century.
McDermott admitted Rhinos had been expecting a closer encounter.
He said: “I thought we were outstanding in the first half and very committed in the second half, but Salford made more of a contest of it in the second half.
“Sometimes when we’ve had a chance of going top of the table for a 48-hour period or certainly second we’ve not quite grasped it in the past
“We talked about that beforehand and we looked very focused in that first half.
“It is not a false position for Salford, we knew they were a good team and sometimes you’ve got to fear the opposition to bring out the best in you.
“We certainly were on our guard building up for this game. We know they can be extremely good and they showed a fair bit of fight in the second half.
“I’m sure their coach and players will be disappointed, but it wasn’t a pushover in the second half.”
Salford Red Devils: O’Brien, Johnson, Welham, Sa’u, Evalds, Lui, Dobson, Tasi, Wood, Kopczak, Murdoch-Masila, Jones, Hauraki. Substitutes: Griffin, Brining, Krasniqi, Lannon.
Leeds Rhinos: Walker, Briscoe, Watkins, Ward, Hall, Moon, McGuire, Galloway, Parcell, Singleton, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Cuthbertson. Substitutes: Lilley, Garbutt, Mullally, Walters.
Referee: J Child (Batley).