FOR the second time this season, frustrated Hull KR came away from facing champions Leeds Rhinos feeling like they could have claimed victory only to emerge with nothing.
The difference this time was Kallum Watkins’s boot as the Leeds captain slotted a 55th-minute penalty and then helped his side fiercely protect their narrow two-point advantage for the remainder of an absorbing derby.
Given Rhinos had lost by just a solitary point in each of their last two outings, you could understand why their fans were expecting the worst going into the final tense stages.
However, Rovers, for all they created pressure, crucially failed to take their chances, spilled-ball or bad decision-making hurting them when it mattered most.
Leeds also had Brett Ferres to thank for one remarkable tackle to deny Justin Carney while Rovers saw second-half efforts by Robbie Mulhern – the former Rhinos prop who excelled here –and Adam Quinlan ruled out by referee Scott Mikalauskas.
Rovers, then, remain 10th with just three wins from their dozen games so far but head coach Tim Sheens refused to seek excuses.
We shot ourselves in the foot that many times, I don’t think we had any toes left by the end.Tim Sheens
“There were too many mistakes in the second half, not enough completed sets and too many turnovers,” he said.
“We only completed at around 50 per cent in the second half.
“As boring as that is over here to hear Australian coaches talk about that, you can’t win games when you don’t complete at a high level.
“The players are disappointed because if we complete well, we win the game. The courage was at 200 per cent, I’ve no problem at all with that.
“But we shot ourselves in the foot that many times, I don’t think we had any toes left by the end.
“We took some poor options. Junior (Vaivai) might have scored, Justin (Carney) stepped one too many, but I thought we should have got a penalty when (Chris) Atkin’s jumper was grabbed off the ball.
“I’m pretty disappointed in Robert Hicks there; he’s the touch-judge and he’s a very experienced referee and if we could see it from the box, I think he should have being right next to it.
“Those sort of things go against you but we could have still won the game if we’d taken the right options. Although there are some issues from the officials’ point of view, I think we had the chance to win the game and didn’t.”
Rovers were actually 18-12 ahead at the break after it had been Leeds initially making all the bad decisions with some senseless ill-discipline.
Each side scored two converted tries apiece but Rovers had the edge due to Ryan Shaw’s three penalty goals.
All of them came from the visitors messing around at the play-the-ball, the first after Richie Myler hung on too long after Danny McGuire’s half-break in the ninth minute.
But Adam Cuthbertson, with a clumsy second dig on James Greenwood, and Carl Ablett for a similar effort on James Donaldson, right in front of the posts gifted the hosts more points.
It was a sign that Leeds were getting stretched and, with Mose Masoe and Mulhern having a big impact up front, Sheens’s side did get plenty of success.
Mulhern scored their first try in the 13th minute after McGuire’s brilliant 40/20, the former Leeds captain then quickly taking the tap to send the impressive forward over, Shaw converting.
However, Rhinos responded with a lovely individual try from Joel Moon who sidestepped his way past two defenders on his way in from 40m out, Watkins improving. Then, Myler showed great footwork, too, to set up Jamie Jones-Buchan, Watkins making it 12-8.
Tommy Lee, who showed some nice touches after switching from hooker to scrum-half for this game, slipped Masoe over with a short ball for Shaw to give them the advantage before adding those penalties.
However, Masoe was yellow-carded at the start of the second period, perhaps harshly, for a high tackle on Ashton Golding.
While Rovers were down to 12 men, and after Donaldson and Carney both spilled early in sets, Leeds profitted as Moon found Ryan Hall in the 48th minute, Watkins nailing the touchline conversion to level.
Rhinos, who lost Australian second-row Brett Delaney to a first-half shoulder injury, held their nerve from thereonin, protecting their goalline.
Rovers – who saw half-back Atkin become their fifth different starting hooker this term – now look to a crucial game at Wakefield Trinity next Sunday but they have more injury problems.
Maurice Blair pulled out on Saturday with a back issue that has also affected Liam Salter meaning second-row Greenwood had to operate as a makeshift centre while prop Nick Scruton departed with a shoulder problem.
Hull KR: Quinlan: Shaw, Greenwood, Vaivai, Carney; McGuire, Lee; Mulhern, Atkin, Masoe, Clarkson, Tickle, Kavanagh. Substitutes: Scruton, Donaldson, Marsh, Cator.
Leeds Rhinos: Golding; Briscoe, Watkins, Handley, Hall; Moon, Myler; Cuthbertson, Parcell, Singleton, Jones-Buchanan, Ward, Ablett. Substitutes: Delaney, Mullally, Ferres, Oledzki.
Referee: S Mikalauskas (Wigan).