LESS than a year ago Danny McGuire captained Leeds Rhinos to their eighth Super League title. On his first game at Headingley since then he nudged them towards the precipice of what would be a catastrophic relegation.
McGuire played a pivotal role in a precious 38-36 win for Hull KR which boosted their hopes of retaining top-flight status and piled the pressure on Leeds.
Both teams are among a quartet on four points from three fixtures in the Qualifiers, along with Toronto Wolfpack and Toulouse Olympique, though Leeds remain second – behind unbeaten Salford – on points difference.
Ten points is the target and both Leeds and Rovers are capable of achieving that, but the Robins look the more confident side and are in good shape after back-to-back successes against Toronto and Rhinos.
They showed tremendous character to hit back from 36-26 behind in the second half of a free-flowing clash in which both sides played some good attacking rugby, but looked highly vulnerable in defence.
Craig Hall has proved an astute acquisition since rejoining the East Yorkshire club from Leigh and his touchline conversion of Junior Vaivai’s try 13 minutes from time won the game.
That was his fifth goal and he also scored a hat-trick of tries, two of them being set-up by McGuire who knocked on over the line in the final moments.
The winning score was the sixth time the lead had changed hands and Hull KR coach Tim Sheens reflected: “We kept sticking in it and staying in the game.
“I am real happy with that. You don’t beat a side like that easy away. We got our noses in front and gave it up just before half -time which was disappointing.
“I thought we deserved to stay in the game and it was always going to be nip and tuck as to who won. I didn’t think there was a particularly better side than another.
When you concede 38 points at home you get what you deserved. We weren’t prepared to be ruthless enough to kill the game off.Leeds Rhinos’ Kevin Sinfield
“I think both sides tried hard and played really good footy, there was plenty of ball movement and some nice tries, but it just came down to who got the bounce at the back end and fortunately it went for us.”
Joel Moon’s sixth try in the Qualifiers gave Leeds an early lead, but Hull KR hit back through Hall, Adam Quinlan and Robbie Mulhern, who was among five former Rhinos in their line-up, to go 14-4 ahead.
Tom Briscoe crossed for the home team, but Hall landed a penalty before two tries in as many minutes at the end of the half seemed to have swung the momentum, Richie Myler crossing after Liam Sutcliffe had intercepted from McGuire, then Nathaniel Peteru completing a flowing move.
That made it 22-16 at the interval. Sutcliffe – who finished with six goals – landed a penalty early in the second half, before Hall crossed twice to complete his triple.
The tit-for-tat scoring continued with Matt Parcell and Tom Briscoe going in for Leeds to make it 36-26 after 54 minutes, but the jittery hosts could not land a killer punch and a try for Chris Atkin got Rovers back within touching distance.
Sheens added: “It was one of those games that was going to bounce one way or the other and we just pushed ourselves hard. There were some great individual efforts and we knew we were as good as them, we knew we could come here [and win].”
Leeds have now won only two of their last 14 games against top-flight opposition, Widnes Vikings – who they visit on Sunday – being the victims both times.
Director of rugby Kevin Sinfield admitted they wasted an opportunity to ease the mounting pressure. He said: “You are hoping you create a bit of a buffer, but we’ve not been good enough to do that.
“When you concede 38 points at home you get what you deserved. We weren’t prepared to be ruthless enough to kill the game off.
“Whilever we lack that killer instinct we were always open for Hull KR to have a crack back at us and they did. They are desperate, so are we, but at crucial moments we probably weren’t desperate enough,” he added.
Rovers were without Joel Tomkins, who was ill. Leeds captain Carl Ablett’s involvement was ended by a knee injury in the first half.
Leeds Rhinos: Walker, T Briscoe, Ward, Moon, L Briscoe, L Sutcliffe, Myler, Cuthbertson, Dwyer, Singleton, Ablett, Ferres, Jones-Buchanan. Substitutes: Peteru. Mullally, Thompson, Parcell.
Hull KR: Quinlan, Hall, Crooks, Vaivai, Carney, McGuire, Atkin, Masoe, Lee, Mulhern, Tickle, Greenwood, Clarkson. Substitutes: Lunt, Scruton, Kavanagh, Blair.
Referee: B Thaler (Wakefield).