Leeds Rhinos 8 Hull FC 31: Jake Connor inspires Black and Whites to Headingley victory

AN imperious first half performance by full-back Jake Connor set Hull FC on course for an unlikely 31-8 win as they embarrassed Leeds Rhinos at Headingley last night.

When he is in the mood, Connor – omitted from England’s training squad last week – is almost impossible to stop.

He was in the mood on this occasion, scoring two of Hull’s first-half tries and creating the third as the visitors, missing a host of influential players including both first-choice half-backs, stormed into an 18-0 lead.

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Joe Lovodua, normally a hooker or loose-forward, was shifted into the halves alongside Ben McNamara and they out-shone Leeds’s much heralded pairing of Blake Austin and Aidan Sezer.

All smiles: Hull FC’s Adam Swift celebrates his try against Leeds Rhinos at Headingley. (Picture: Allan McKenzie/SWpix.com)

Rhinos had players missing, including Harry Newman, Kruise Leeming and Cameron Smith from the win at Wakefield Trinity last week, but Hull also had first-choice players unavailable in the three-quarters and pack.

They were also on a short turnaround from a poor performance in defeat at Castleford Tigers last Sunday, while Rhinos should have been full of confidence following their first win of the campaign, but it didn’t look that way.

Hull’s makeshift half-back pairing were far more inventive, the pack made big yards, while Leeds had little go-forward and Connor was on a different level to anyone in the Rhinos’ ranks – or Hull’s, to be fair.

Four injuries – to Joe Cator, Kane Evans, Chris Satae and Jamie Shaul – were the only blot on an excellent evening for Hull. Cator suffered Achilles damage in his first game back from a similar problem suffered last August.

Hull FC's Joe Lovodua in action during the victory over Leeds Rhinos (Picture: PA)

Rhinos made a relatively positive start. Adam Swift came to Hull’s rescue when Leeds created the first chance, after five minutes, tackling Rhinos’ big wing David Fusitu’a into touch just short of the line.

Leeds wasted another chance soon afterwards, on the other flank, when Liam Sutcliffe’s pass which sent Handley over was forward – a pattern repeated later in the half, though the winger was pulled back before he got to the touchline the second time.

In between those opportunities, Hull were reduced to 12 men with Evans, making his first start, sin-binned for a high tackle on Walker, who had just made an outstanding diving catch from a towering kick.

Numerical parity was restored within three minutes though, when Matt Prior followed the Hull man to the naughty step, for a high shot on Swift who had to leave the field for a head injury assessment, though he returned later in the first half. Hull dominated after Prior’s temporary departure. Some quick thinking by Sutcliffe saved Leeds when Connor’s kick bounced between Handley’s arms to Mitieli Vulikijapani, behind Rhinos’ line, but the centre palmed the ball dead before the Fijian could touch down.

After 19 minutes, just before Prior returned, Briscoe made a fine tackle to stop Josh Griffin. On the next play, the full-back dummied to kick and then shimmied his way to the line for the opening try, which McNamara converted.

That had been coming and Hull scored again 10 minutes before the interval. Initially, Briscoe produced another stunning tackle to keep Griffin out, but – again on the next play – Hull shifted the ball to the other flank and Swift went over from Connor’s pass.

McNamara’s second goal, off the touchline, made it 12-0 and he converted again five minutes later after Connor glided over.

Rhinos came out like they’d been given a rocket at half-time and thought they had got points on the board after three minutes.

Referee Liam Moore signalled a try when Fusitu’a dived over one-handed from Walker’s pass as Leeds moved the ball nicely across the line, but video assistant Ben Thaler disagreed.

A repeat set and penalty followed and rather than Hull being 12 points ahead, their lead was increased to 22-0 when Lovodua sent Andre Savelio charging past a poor attempted tackle by Sezer.

McNamara’s kick was off target, but he booted a penalty after 54 minutes. With 15 left, Jordan Johnstone kicked behind Rhinos’ line and Lovodua was first to it to record a deserved try, which McNamara goaled. Connor landed a drop goal seven later before Rhinos saved a tiny bit of face with late tries by Briscoe and Sutcliffe.

Leeds Rhinos: Walker, Fusitu’a, Briscoe, Sutcliffe, Handley, Austin, Sezer, Oledzki, Johnson, Prior, Gannon, Martin, Tetevano. Substitutes: Donaldson, Mellor, Dwyer, Thompson.

Hull FC: Connor, Shaul, Vulikijapani, Griffin, Swift, Lovodua, McNamara, Evans, Houghton, Satae, Savelio, Sao, Brown. Substitutes: Cator, Fash, Bowden, Johnstone.

Referee: Liam Moore (Wigan).