LEEDS RHINOS fans in the 6,809 crowd at Huddersfield Giants tonight celebrated the fifth try in their team’s 44-0 win with jubilant – and possibly tongue in cheek – chants of “we are staying up”.
That illustrates how far expectations have fallen at Super League’s most successful club, but the travelling support were entitled to enjoy what might prove to be one of Leeds’ most significant wins of the summer era.
It certainly doesn’t make them safe, with five rounds remaining, but they moved above Huddersfield and Wakefield Trinity into eighth place, a season’s high in the table.
And they did it in style, scoring eight tries and not conceding, for the second time under interim-coach Richard Agar.
Consistency is most important, but on this form Rhinos look like a good side. At half-time, leading 22-0, the game was theirs to lose.
They have proved this year they are more than capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory so there was still work to be done.
Indeed, in the previous meeting, at Emerald Headingley four months ago, they found themselves hanging on for a 38-18 victory after leading 30-0 at the break.
This time, though, they were much more solid and, after they wasted an early chance, Giants never looked capable of getting back into the contest.
From Huddersfield’s point of view it was a worrying performance and result which drags them back into the dogfight.
Giants were on the back of a morale-boosting win at fellow strugglers Hull KR last time out, but never got into the game.
They lacked creativity on attack and their defence was second best to a Leeds team who, when they hit their stride, played some nice rugby.
Huddersfield relied on one-up rugby for the most part, their last tackle plays were poor and they made little headway against a strong Rhinos tacking operation.
After no game last weekend both teams made an energetic start, going set for set in the opening exchanges.
A key passage of play came late in the opening quarter.
Some solid defence from Leeds forced Giants into kicking early in the count and, after 16 minutes, Kruise Leeming went for a 40-20 which bounced back in field and was picked up by Ash Handley.
Giants’ kick-chase was good and Handley was dragged back towards’ Leeds’ line before knocking-on. The hosts then forced a drop-out from a kick by Matt Frawley, who was back at scrum-half in place of Tom Holmes.
Giants had more pressure from an error and penalty, but – other than Michael Lawrence going close – Leeds weren’t unduly troubled.
That rearguard action gave Rhinos the belief they could handle what Huddersfield would throw at them and also raised some doubts in Giants’ minds.
Within eight minutes Leeds, who had not threatened up to that point, had scored three tries to take a firm grip on the game.
On 18 minutes Adam Cuthbertson made a clean break to carry Rhinos upfield and on the final play Harry Newman, having a fine game against his hometown club, ran out of acting-half before putting in a perfect grubber kick to the posts, which an alert Cuthbertson collected to touch down.
In the set from the restart the ball was stolen from Konrad Hurrell in a two-man tackle, leading to a Rhinos penalty. While that was going on, winger Tom Briscoe was on the ground receiving treatment and in clear discomfort.
He got to his feet and into position in time to get on the end of Rhyse Martin’s pass and terrific quick hands across the line by Shaun Lunt and Rob Lui.
Briscoe tried to play on, but was hurt again soon afterwards, attempting to make a tackle and had to be helped off. Giants lost Aaron Murphy with a similar-looking leg injury just before the break. Rhinos signed Hurrell on a marquee contract for his hard-hitting and ability to step – or if necessary smash – through defences from 30 metres or so out from the line.
He had a strong spell earlier in the season, but has struggled to regain that form since a hamstring injury suffered in the home game against Huddersfield in April.
He should have been boxed in when Brett Ferres slipped him a nice pass on the last, but powered into space and bumped off full-back Darnell McIntosh for an outstanding individual try.
Martin converted the first and third to make it 16-0 and Leeds struck again four minutes before the interval.
Rhinos began with Lunt, a former Huddersfield player, at hooker and then swapped late in the half when Brad Dwyer came off the bench.
While Lunt offers more solidity, Dwyer can be electric out of acting-half and he extended the lead with some brilliant improvisation; spotting a disorganised defence he burst past the markers and stretched over for Leeds’ fourth try, which Martin improved.
Giants were caught out by the tackle count being wiped clean after a home hand got to the ball as Lui tred to create something. Martin had gone close earlier in the set off good work by Lui and that partnership is beginning to blossom nicely for Rhinos.
Giants had an opportunity to get back into the game just six minutes into the second half when Frawley’s kick was knocked back by Innes Senior to Ukuma Ta’ai, but he dropped the ball a few metres short.
That ended their prospects of a fightback. Two minutes later Alex Mellor – the Giants second-rower who will join Leeds next year – lost possession on half way, Richie Myler pounced on the mistake and then cleverly turned a pass to Ash Handley who raced away to mark his 100th Rhinos appearance with his 52nd try and 16th of the campaign.
Leeds haven’t had much to celebrate this season, but the 23-year-old England Knights man has had a strong season after inheriting the coveted number five jersey from Ryan Hall.
On 58 minutes Dwyer intercepted Darnell McIntosh’s pass close to Leeds’ line and that led to Hurrell’s second try, the big Tongan somehow getting the ball down from Myler’s pass despite being buried under a mound of Giants defenders.
Ferres, who had a good game against his former club, sent Liam Sutcliffe in seven minutes from the end and there was still time for Handley to grab his second off good work by Myler. Martin took his tally of goals to six from eight attempts.
The penalty count finished eight-six in Giants’ favour after being three-three at half-time.