Hardaker inspires impressive Rhinos to victory over Wolves

Zak Hardaker celebrates a try. PIC: Steve Riding
Zak Hardaker celebrates a try. PIC: Steve Riding
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Zak Hardaker scored two tries in a man-of-the-match performance as table-topping Leeds made it third time lucky by hammering Warrington 49-10 to launch their Super 8s campaign in style.

All eyes were on Chris Sandow on his First Utility Super League debut but it was the in-form Rhinos who stole the show as they avenged two defeats by Warrington in the regular season and continued their march towards another Grand Final.

Sandow made some eye-catching early contributions and registered his first points for Warrington after converting Kevin Penny’s try.

But Leeds responded immediately through Kallum Watkins’s 18th try of the season and were in a commanding position at half-time after further scores from Tom Briscoe, Hardaker and Danny McGuire.

Penny scored again after the restart but a brilliant second try from Hardaker calmed any Rhinos’ nerves before Joel Moon, Rob Burrow and Carl Ablett crossed either side of a Kevin Sinfield drop goal as Leeds laid down a significant marker.

Sandow’s first act as a Warrington player was to attempt a 40/20 which almost came off, with his second a half-break and an offload.

Leeds were enjoying most of the territory in the opening 10 minutes but it was the Wolves who hit the front on the back of two moments of magic.

Penny first prevented a Sinfield penalty from reaching touch and then backed up a trademark break by Daryl Clark on the next play.

The Rhinos’ response was immediate as Watkins found a hole in the Warrington defence and after he was hauled down by Stefan Ratchford, stayed alert to take Sinfield’s pass from dummy-half and touch down to the right of the posts.

Sinfield was again central to Leeds’s next try, with his long pass after a set play close to the Wolves line giving Briscoe a clear run to the corner.

The breakneck speed continued as Warrington benefited from McGuire’s knock-on from the restart and looked to have drawn level through Penny, only for referee James Child to call Ratchford’s pass forward. The Wolves found themselves 16-6 down six minutes before 
half-time after being caught cold by a move from the training ground.

Paul Aiton picked up from acting-half and found Jamie Peacock, whose inside ball saw Hardaker race clear and escape the clutches of Ratchford to score.

It went from bad to worse for the Wire when Adam Cuthbertson offloaded to Ablett via the fingertips of Rhys Evans before McGuire showed good footballing skills to kick ahead and get downward pressure on the loose ball. There was a hint of a knock-on by Ablett but the try was awarded after Child consulted the video referees.

There was still time for Sinfield to knock over a penalty from out wide to give the Rhinos a 24-6 lead at the break.

Warrington needed to score first at the start of the second half and they did just that when Sandow, whose first-half performance contained a kick out on the full and a forward pass, put Ratchford through a gaping hole before the full-back kept his composure to set Penny free for his second try.

Leeds needed to be at their best defensively after the Wolves earned a repeat set close to their line and then put the game to bed courtesy of a thrilling effort by Hardaker. Briscoe began the move inside the Rhinos’ half after Sinfield’s kick was charged down and Hardaker finished it off with mesmerising footwork.

The Rhinos crossed for a sixth through Moon from McGuire’s cut-out pass and thought Hardaker had completed his hat-trick after another classy break, only for the video referees to rule he had been tackled short of the line.

Sinfield slotted over a one-pointer and then added two more conversions to tries from Burrow and Ablett, who will have fond memories of his 250th Leeds appearance.

Leeds: Hardaker, T. Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, Sinfield, McGuire, Garbutt, Aiton, Peacock, Ablett, Keinhorst, Cuthbertson. Substitutes: Singleton, Delaney, Burrow, Leuluai.

Warrington: Ratchford, Penny, R. Evans, T. King, Monaghan, Sandow, Myler, England, Clark, Sims, Philbin, Currie, Hill. Substitutes: Dwyer, Asotasi, Wilde, G. King.

Referee: J Child (RFL).