Leeds Rhinos 70 Salford 6: Hardaker plays lead role in Leeds’s romp against Salford

WITHIN REACH: Ryan Hall stretches to score for Leeds in their runaway win over Salford. Picture: Steve Riding
WITHIN REACH: Ryan Hall stretches to score for Leeds in their runaway win over Salford. Picture: Steve Riding
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Zac Hardaker returned from suspension with a 26-point haul from two touchdowns and nine goals as Leeds went back to the top of the First Utility Super League table with this destruction of sorry Salford.

Ryan Hall and Carl Ablett also grabbed braces with Kallum Watkins, like Hall, taking his season’s total to 15 tries as the Rhinos ran amok throughout a hugely one-sided encounter.

Seven different try scorers gave Leeds an unassailable 40-0 half-time advantage and six more scores after the break ensured the Rhinos gained their biggest win of the season

It was also Leeds’s biggest over Salford in the summer era, further confirming a stranglehold which has seen them win no fewer than 35 of 36 meetings between the sides since Super League’s inception in 1996.

The defeat condemns the Red Devils to scraping for their Super League survival in the ‘Middle Eights’ when the top two divisions split after next week’s 23rd round.

Both sides were without their talismanic playmakers – Leeds resting record point-scorer Kevin Sinfield due to a shoulder knock, while Salford’s Rangi Chase failed to shake off the back injury which has now kept him out of their last three matches.

It was virtually one-way traffic from the start and Leeds went ahead in the seventh minute when Danny McGuire twisted and tumbled his way over for his 12th try of the season.

The Red Devils conceded a glut of early penalties and the Rhinos prospered with Adam Cuthbertson then crashing onto Paul Aiton’s pass to cross from close range.

Hardaker could easily have made it three tries in the opening quarter of an hour but over elaboration led to the Rhinos full-back tossing the ball into touch with team-mates queuing up to score.

Salford’s cause was not helped when goal-kicking centre Josh Griffin was helped off shortly afterwards and then former Leeds prop Adrian Morley, on his last appearance at Headingley before retiring at the end of the season, was sin-binned for a reckless high shot on Rob Burrow.

Jimmy Keinhorst put Watkins over in the corner against the 12 men and McGuire’s dab in goal was successfully raced onto by Brett Delaney,

When the kick-off sailed directly into touch the Red Devils knew it was going to be a long, tough night and before Morley was restored to the field of play, Hardaker himself went over with a massive overlap to spare to help the rampant Rhinos to 30-0 and scoring at a point a minute.

Hall was next to cross in the corner, although Hardaker missed his first conversion attempt from the touchline.

Brad Singleton bombed a guilt-edged chance with Burrow in begging support and ex-Salford centre Joel Moon was denied another Leeds try for double movement as the relentless pressure continued.

Just before the break Moon did score against his wilting former team to help the league leaders to an overwhelming 40-point half time lead.

Salford’s leading try scorer Ben Jones-Bishop, who moved from Headingley last winter, was denied a try when Junior Sa’u’s pass was deemed forward and, just seconds later, Ash Handley’s break from his own half led to Hardaker claiming his second try.

Niall Evalds grabbed a consolation for the Red Devils, which Cory Paterson converted, but further tries from Hall, Keinhorst, Josh Walters and Ablett (twice) confirmed the Rhinos’ total dominance.

Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker, Handley, Watkins, Moon, Hall, McGuire, Burrow, Leuluai, Aiton, Cuthbertson, Keinhorst, Ablett, Delaney. Substitutes: Singleton, Walters, R. Ward, Garbutt.

Salford Red Devils: Evalds, Jones-Bishop, Sa’u, J. Griffin, Caton-Brown, Fages, Dobson, Morley, Tomkins, Taylor, Paterson, Hauraki, G. Griffin. Substitutes: Hansen, D. Griffin, J. Walne, Hood.

Referee: Ben Thaler (RFL).