Leeds Rhinos 34 Salford Red Devils 14: Rohan Smith's side enjoy 2022 first to put rivals on alert

During the club's golden era, Leeds Rhinos had an uncanny knack of hitting form at just the right time.

The Rhinos claimed eight Super League titles between 2004 and 2017, famously winning the Grand Final from fifth place in back-to-back seasons.

Leeds will need to outdo themselves to make it nine next month but they have the one thing that every club craves at this stage of the year: momentum.

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The resurgent Rhinos made it five wins in six games against play-off rivals Salford Red Devils on Sunday afternoon to move into the top six for the first time this season.

Leeds Rhinos celebrate Rhyse Martin's second try. (Picture: SWPix.com)Leeds Rhinos celebrate Rhyse Martin's second try. (Picture: SWPix.com)
Leeds Rhinos celebrate Rhyse Martin's second try. (Picture: SWPix.com)

Timing is everything and Rohan Smith's side have the look of a team ready to ruffle feathers in the play-offs after overcoming a nightmare start to the campaign.

But they must improve on their performance at Headingley if they are to beat St Helens and Wigan Warriors when it matters.

Fresh from dismantling defending champions Saints to continue their fine form, the impressive Red Devils gave the Rhinos an almighty scare.

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But ultimately they failed to fully recover from an early blitz from Leeds and fell away following Ash Handley's length-of-the-field try 15 minutes from time.

Salford gave as good as they got in an entertaining contest. (Picture: SWPix.com)Salford gave as good as they got in an entertaining contest. (Picture: SWPix.com)
Salford gave as good as they got in an entertaining contest. (Picture: SWPix.com)

Only 42 seconds were on the clock when the Rhinos opened the scoring through Harry Newman.

James Bentley started the move with a strong fend on Marc Sneyd and Newman finished it after initially putting David Fusitu'a away down the right flank.

Salford thought they had delivered a swift response when Deon Cross touched down, only to see the try ruled out for a knock-on from Sneyd's kick.

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The Red Devils quickly found themselves behind their own posts again after Richie Myler - last week's hat-trick hero in Perpignan - claimed Aidan Sezer's high kick to give Leeds a second try inside the opening seven minutes.

Rhyse Martin made a crucial contribution. (Picture: SWPix.com)Rhyse Martin made a crucial contribution. (Picture: SWPix.com)
Rhyse Martin made a crucial contribution. (Picture: SWPix.com)

Leeds threatened to put the game to bed before Salford could land a telling blow of their own, Rhyse Martin powering his way over on the back of a strong run by Newman.

Martin made it three from three from the tee to give the Rhinos an 18-0 lead with just 16 minutes on the clock.

Salford, though, are a team that can quickly rack up the points themselves.

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The Red Devils got on the board in the 20th minute through Joe Burgess after good hands from Elijah Taylor, who took a heavy knock for his troubles.

There was a sense the momentum was turning as Liam Sutcliffe kicked the restart out on the full.

Cross dropped Sneyd's cross-field kick with Salford on top but the visitors did not have to wait much longer for their second try.

After Brodie Croft's kick forced a drop-out, the Red Devils kept the ball alive and scored in the corner through Ken Sio.

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Sneyd's second missed kick meant Leeds still had a cushion after half an hour but the Red Devils were controlling the game.

The Rhinos had their moments before the interval, Cameron Smith pulled back for an obstruction as he threatened to race clear and Brad Dwyer making a break to no avail.

But Salford were the dominant side and picked up where they left off when the action resumed.

After forcing two drop-outs and earning a penalty, the Red Devils got the try they craved when the impressive Croft dummied his way over next to the posts.

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Sneyd converted to leave Leeds with a slender four-point advantage and Salford threatened to complete the comeback with the home side on the ropes.

The Rhinos were left scrambling after a break by Chris Atkin but Zak Hardaker came to the rescue with an important tackle to slow the progress of Sneyd, whose kick on the next play left Sio with too much to do.

Leeds were in desperate need of a momentum shift and they got it when former prop Jack Ormondroyd knocked on in a promising position.

Fusitu'a was chased down after scooping up the ball but the Rhinos won a penalty later in the set, allowing Martin to nudge his side 20-14 ahead.

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After waiting so long for field position, there was a sense Leeds could live to regret the decision to go for goal.

The struggle for territory continued, Fusitu'a knocking on to give Salford yet another look at the Rhinos line.

But Atkin was forced into an error trying to touch down and there was no way back for the Red Devils when Handley picked off Ryan Brierley's pass to go 90 metres.

Salford were left down to 12 men for the final nine minutes after losing Sitaleki Akauola to a yellow card and Leeds added some gloss to the scoreline in the prop's absence.

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Martin made sure of the result from the resultant penalty and then forced his way over for his second try four minutes from time.

The back-rower maintained his perfect record from the boot to finish with an impressive 22-point haul and put the seal on a vital win for the ever-improving Rhinos.

Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker, Fusitu'a, Newman, Sutcliffe, Handley, Sezer, Myler, Oledzki, O'Connor, Thompson, Bentley, Martin, Smith.

Substitutes: Dwyer, Tetevano, Walters, Gannon.

Salford Red Devils: Sarginson, Sio, Cross, Lafai, Burgess, Croft, Sneyd, Akauola, Ackers, Ormondroyd, Taylor, Watkins, Gerrard.

Substitutes: Atkin, Brierley, Wright, Luckley.

Referee: Ben Thaler.

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