Leeds Rhinos 24 London Broncos 22: Little Magic but Rhinos survive late scare to gain breathing space
There was little to enthuse about in Leeds Rhinos’ 24-22 victory over London Broncos and several areas of concern.
It was scrappy and tense, Leeds failing to build on a positive start, allowing London back into the game and then almost throwing it away– in what has become characteristic fashion – late on.
But, all that said, Leeds’s first Magic Weekend success since 2012 lifted them two points clear of London, who remain rooted to the foot of the table and edged them a very small step closer to safety.
Rhinos did it the hard way.
They led 10-0 early on and played well in the opening exchanges, but then – as has happened so often this year – began to make errors with the ball near their own line, as well as conceding far too many penalties.
That allowed London to stay in touching distance and a try before half-time set up a nervy second 40 minutes.
The teams exchanged tries, but two touchdowns in quick succession seemed to have made the game safe for Leeds.
Exactly how many points Rhinos would need to be in front to feel comfortable, however, is a question that has yet to be answered this year.
In their two previous wins – over Huddersfield Giants and Hull KR – they had seen a big lead almost wiped out and it was a repeat performance with London scoring 12 unanswered points to leave Leeds hanging on in the final five minutes.
That they managed to do that is progress of sorts, after London scored eight late points to snatch a last-gasp win at Headingley in March, but without a major improvement across the board Rhinos will remain in peril for the rest of this season at least.
There were positives. Jack Walker scored a try on a strong return from a hamstring injury, though he was taken off as a precaution in the closing stages.
Richie Myler also crossed, made a magnificent try-saving tackle and managed the game better than has been the case for much of this year.
There was also an impressive late cameo from 20-year-old centre Alex Sutcliffe, no relation to teammate Liam, who – if a touch fortunately – set up Myler’s crucial score.
Rhinos did defend well for spells, particularly in the first half and third quarter, but the penalty count – which finished nine-three in London’s favour – and errors wore them down late on and Leeds’s fragility when things go wrong was clear.
Myler’s try made it 24-10 with 12 minutes left and that should have been a big enough margin to ensure a relatively undramatic end to the game, but London got the ball back from a short kick off and scored through Jordan Abdull and then Elliott Kear’s pass was finished by Alex Walker.
Kieran Dixon converted both, but Leeds managed to play most of the final moments at London’s end of the field, though the emotion at the final whistle was relief rather than euphoria.
Leeds’s attack has stagnated since powerful centre Konrad Hurrell suffered a hamstring injury, but they did look sharp and enthusiastic early on.
Jack Walker had a touchdown chalked off for obstruction before Liam Sutcliffe went over from acting-half and then Ash Handley, the in-form winger who has been one of Rhinos’ few success stories this year, crossed off a smart pass by Trent Merrin.
Rhinos then lost their way, allowing London to build pressure which resulted in a converted try for Ryan Morgan and they would have at least been level during the interval but for a stunning try-saver by Myler on Alex Walker.
That came soon after Rhinos had ignored instructions from their coaching team and opted to tap a penalty in front of London’s posts.
Jack Walker replaced the injured Tui Lolohea and while he may not yet have as good a passing game, his footwork is outstanding and that, on the end of a fine pass from Myler, extended Leeds’s advantage early in the second period. Abdull pulled a try back almost immediately and London were on the front foot for a lengthy period until some fine improvisation from Leeds.
Teenager Harry Newman has had an extended run at centre and is clearly an exciting prospect.
His offload sent Handley close and after he had been tackled the England academy star spotted a gap and went over from acting-half.
Then Alex Sutcliffe made a break and though his pass inside – aimed at Kallum Watkins – was poor, Myler reacted quickly to pick up and cut over the line, Liam Sutcliffe adding the extras.
Leeds Rhinos: J Walker, T Briscoe, Newman, Watkins, Handley, L Sutcliffe, Myler, Seumanufagai, Dwyer, Singleton, Donaldson, C Smith, Merrin. Substitutes: Parcell, Peteru., Oledzki, A Sutcliffe.
London Broncos: A Walker, Dixon , Morgan, Kear, Williams, Abdull, M Smith, Battye, Cunningham, Butler, Pitts, Lovell, Yates. Substitutes: Richards, Fozzard, Adebiyi, Gee.
Referee: J Child (Dewsbury).