With 12 minutes left, Leeds Rhinos – officially the away team against Huddersfield Giants at Headingley – trailed 26-6 and were a man down.
They then scored 21 unanswered points, capped by Luke Gale’s golden point drop goal winner, to seal a 27-26 success, their fifth successive win either side of the coronavirus shutdown.
On 68 minutes, Ash Handley intercepted close to Leeds’s line with a clear run, but was penalised for offside, hurdled the ball down in disgust and was sin-binned.
Inevitably, Giants scored from the penalty when Louis Senior went over from a pass by Aiden Sezer who also added the two for his third goal.
That opened a 20-point gap and, but incredibly Leeds – who had offered so little to that point – managed to score three tries in six minutes, two of them before Handley returned.
Gale cut through for a solo try, Luke Briscoe scored from Rhyse Martin’s pass and Gale sent Alex Mellor stretching over against his old club.
With two minutes left Konrad Hurrell managed to get the ball down from Richie Myler’s pass and Martin kept his nerve to square the scores with his third goal.
Jake Wardle went close with a drop goal attempt as the hooter sounded and Handley then kicked ahead to give Giants another go, but Leeds snuffed out the danger.
Both teams had possession in time added on, but Lee Gaskell’s off-target one-point attempt gave Leeds a seven-tackle set and on the last of those Gale landed his winner from 35 metres.
Leeds will need to be far better to maintain their place at or near the top of the ladder, but their spirit can’t be questioned.
Giants had led 14-6 at half-time and extended that by six on 47 minutes when Rob Lui aimed a pass to Leeds’s right-flank, but it went behind Harry Newman and Luke Briscoe and was picked up by Darnell McIntosh who held off Ash Handley on a 70-metre sprint to complete his hat-trick.
Huddersfield made a fast start, scoring four minutes into the opening period as, after three minutes, Gaskell slid a kick over the line and Senior touched down, too far out for Sezer to add the extras.
The lead lasted until the 13th minute when Gale made a break from inside his own half with Mellor in support.
He did well to supply Handley – linking in from full-back with Myler off for a concussion test -–and his pass was finished at the corner by Hurrell.
Martin landed the conversion, but within moments Golding’s pass sent McIntosh through a big gap for Giants’ second unconverted try.
On 22 minutes, Kenny Edwards stole the ball from Lui and after the count was restarted, Matt Prior was penalised for a high shot on Golding and in the resulting set McIntosh went in again, off Gaskell’s pass this time.
After a poor kick by Martin gave Giants a seven-tackle set, they edged two scores clear through a Sezer penalty just before the interval.
Huddersfield were the better team for 68 minutes and desperately unfortunate to lose, on balance.
They defended strongly, rarely looking like being broken down and were often clinical with the ball.
Golding, on debut against his former club, had a fine game in attack and defence, stand-off Gaskell ran the show and the finishing from Huddersfield’s wingers was outstanding.
The game, under new rules with no scrums and tackle counts being restarted for ruck infringements, was particularly fast and Giants’ big men clearly tired late on in both sides’ first game for almost five months.
Leeds were second best in all departments, making far too many errors and conceding some costly penalties and set restarts, though that changed around late on.
Gale was the match winner, but Leeds’ bench made a key difference with Adam Cuthbertson, Cameron Smith and Kruise Leeming, making his first Rhinos appearance against his previous club, all contributed well.
Huddersfield Giants: Golding, L Senior, Jake Wardle, Turner, McIntosh, Gaskell, Sezer, Gavet, O’Brien, English, Edwards, Wood, Lawrence. Subs: Holmes, Wilson, Matagi, Murphy.
Leeds Rhinos: Myler, L Briscoe, Newman, Hurrell, Handley, Lui, Gale, Oledzki, Dwyer, Seumanufagai, Martin, Mellor, Prior. Subs: Smith, Donaldson, Cuthbertson, Leeming.
Referee: R Hicks (Oldham).
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