Leeds Rhinos 36 Hull KR 12: Rob Lui leads the way as Rhinos claim fifth

“We’ll win it from fifth, we’ll win it from fifth, we’re Leeds Rhinos, we’ll win it from fifth.”

Leeds Rhinos' Rob Lui goes in for his fine solo try against Hull KR. (Will Palmer/SWpix.com)

The home fans at Emerald Headingley could chant that with some conviction tonight given their history in Super League.

The West Yorkshire club has, of course, famously twice surged from that position to prosper in the Grand Final at Old Trafford in both 2011 and 2012.

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Having secured fifth again, replacing their beaten opponents here, there was enough to suggest Richard Agar’s side could cause some problems when the play-offs get underway next week.

Whether they could truly win their first title since 2017 remains to be seen; this improving squad is not littered with legends of the calibre of Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow and Ryan Hall while you have to consider the quality of League Leaders Catalans Dragons and champions St Helens.

However, Wigan Warriors will certainly be more than wary of their potency when they meet in Thursday’s sudden-death eliminator at DW Stadium.

Veteran stand-off Rob Lui, in his final appearance at Headingley before heading home to Australia, delivered a wonderful performance after being recalled to the side, scoring a fine solo try and offering all sorts of clever handling to irritate Rovers.

It was not just his skill, though; not many players cause Shaun Kenny-Dowall trouble defensively but the bulky No6 made a beeline for the totemic Rovers captain continually tonight and regularly brushed him aside.

Leeds Rhinos' Kruise Leeming speeds clear (Will Palmer/SWpix.com)

It helped set the tone for a commanding display.

Lui, who led Rhinos out with fellow departee Konrad Hurrell, was obviously in the mood as his side perfectly bounced back from last week’s heavy defeat at Saints.

Rovers dropped to sixth, a more than commendable finish given they were last 12 months ago, but they face a far sterner test at third-placed Warrington Wolves on Friday.

They will rue the ending of the first period here.

Hull KR's Mikey Lewis celebrates his try. (Will Palmer/SWpix.com)

Leeds went in 24-6 at the break when, so easily, it could have been just 18-12 in their favour.

With barely 90 seconds remaining, Ben Crooks had a glorious chance to cut KR’s deficit as he arrowed for the corner but he was felled by Ash Handley’s desperate ankle tap.

The winger still had a second chance but as he scrambled for the line he agonisingly lost grasp of the ball.

Moments later, Lui did demonstrate all the requisite composure as his exquisite delayed short pass sucked in Kenny-Dowall and set Rhyse Martin free to feed the waiting Richie Myler for Leeds’ fourth try.

Leeds Rhinos' Harry Newman (Will Palmer/SWpix.com)

Timing is everything.

Even considering a side of Rovers’ attacking quality, it was always unlikely they would let such a lead slip and they duly made sure.

James Donaldson, with his usual hustle and bustle, burrowed over at the start of the second half and Leeds, with Matt Prior, Martin and Cameron Smith so combative up front, made sure there was no chance of a fightback.

Handley added another off a splendid long Myler pass and, in the end, it was all rather routine.

Rovers clearly missed the presence of England winger Hall, who missed his first game of the campaign due to a season-ending shoulder injury but was offered a warm response by the Leeds fans when spotted in the stands on Sky’s big screen.

Tony Smith’s side, with youngster Will Tate making his first appearance of the season later on off the bench, had started the contest well.

The pressure was off in some ways given Castleford Tigers’ failure to beat Warrington Wolves the previous night meant neither side could be usurped from the top six on this final night of regular action.

Nevertheless, you would never have guessed it.

Initially, the game was played at a ferocious pace with both sides chancing their arm and offering plenty of zeal and intensity in defence.

Lui, though, typically, made the first incision on 13 minutes.

His sidestep broke the Rovers line 25m out and then he showed pace and strength to beat full-back Will Dagger as well.

Martin slotted the first of his six goals but the visitors quickly responded when Handley’s squeezed flick pass only found grass on halfway.

Brad Takairangi picked up and immediately handed onto Mikey Lewis, the livewire young half who scampered 40m down the touchline for his third try in two games.

Jordan Abdull converted but, given recent crackdowns, Takairangi was perhaps fortunate to only be penalised for a high tackle on Myler soon after.

Leeds scored next when they capitalised on a Jimmy Keinhorst fumble, Kane Linnett producing a try-saving tackle on Martin but no one being able to deny Prior at the next play.

Hooker Kruise Leeming, who again excelled in his 150th Super League game, sent a sweeping pass wide for Handley to sprint clear and exchange passes before Jez Litten collared the latter.

But it only delayed the inevitable, young prop Tom Holroyd exposing the gaps as he ran onto Smith’s smart pass.

Crooks should have got his side back into the contest and he endured another unfortunate howler when he spilled behind Leeds’ line towards the death.

But, by that time, the game was long gone, Dagger scrambling over for consolation that Abdull improved in the 75th minute.

Leeds Rhinos: Broadbent; L Briscoe, Newman, T Briscoe, Handley; Lui, Myler; Thompson, Leeming, Prior, Gannon, Martin, Smith. Substitutes: Dwyer, Donaldson, Holroyd, Hurrell.

Hull KR: Dagger; Crooks, Takairangi, Kenny-Dowall, Keinhorst; Abdull, Lewis; King, Parcell, Maher, Linnett, Johnson, Storton. Substitutes: Sims, Litten, Mustapha, Tate.

Referee: Chris Kendall (Huddersfield)