LEEDS RHINOS’ dismal season ended on an appropriately dire note when they were embarrassed by Toronto Wolfpack at Emerald Headingley last night.
Gareth O’Brien landed the winning drop goal five minutes from time to condemn Rhinos to their fifth one-point loss of the year.
Rhinos will be playing in Betfred Super League next year –thanks to their points difference – but unless they strengthen significantly another relegation battle will be on the cards.
Leeds knew anything better than a 32-point defeat would make them safe and they looked like they couldn’t wait to be on the end-of-season trip to Dublin.
It was a miserable farewell to Ryan Hall, Joel Moon – whose last action as a Rhinos player was to send a drop goal attempt wide – and try scorer Jimmy Keinhorst.
The defeat to the Championship league leaders was Leeds’s first loss to a lower division team since a John Player Special Trophy exit at Barrow in November, 1985 and cost them top spot in the Qualifiers.
Toronto will, at worst, be in the Million Pound Game and will be promoted if Hull KR lose to Widnes on Sunday or win by less than 13 points.
Rhinos trailed 12-10 at the break, having conceded a try on the hooter. Both their touchdowns came from kicks and they offered very little with ball in hand, running up some blind alleys and making too many errors.
Toronto weren’t much better, but they showed more urgency, took the couple of chances that came their way and their spoiling tactics were effective.
It was Toronto who broke the deadlock after 13 minutes, O’Brien’s break being finished off by Cory Paterson.
That was the first time Rhinos had failed to open the scoring since Brian McDermott’s final game in charge, at Wigan exactly three months earlier.
Rhinos hit back at the end of the first quarter. They looked to be going nowhere, but Richie Myler, Brett Ferres and Ashton Golding kept the ball alive on the last and Tom Briscoe ran through to score from Liam Sutcliffe’s grubber. Referee Robert Hicks indicated no try, but was overturned after handing the decision on. There was no goal and O’Brien added a penalty to his conversion of Paterson’s try, after a high tackle by Dom Crosby on Jake Emmitt.
Leeds went in front through their half-back combination of Myler and Sutcliffe. Player of the year Myler dabbed a kick over the line and Sutcliffe rose above the defence to catch and touch down, also adding the extras to make it 10-8 with 12 minutes remaining in the half.
But Toronto led at the break through a try by Nick Rawsthorne, a former Yorkshire Carnegie player who had a spell in Leeds’s academy.
Keinhorst lost the ball, Rhinos were penalised and on the hooter, the winger crossed from Josh McCrone’s pass after Adam Sidlow and Jack Buchanan had handled. O’Brien couldn’t convert from wide out, but Rhinos needed go go up several gears.
Andy Ackers and Adam Sidlow were both held up over the Leeds line early in the second half and it looked like the visitors had extended their lead following the latter’s near-miss. McCrone grubbered over the line, and Blake Wallace claimed he had touched down. Hicks thought so, but replays showed Myler had got downward pressure first.
That was a huge let-off for Leeds and they rallied to go ahead soon afterwards, with 25 minutes left. Brad Dwyer had a good run and supplied Keinhorst who did well to stretch over. Sutcliffe converted off a post to make it 16-12.
That should have given Rhinos a platform to get the job done, but Toronto levelled with 16 minutes left when Matty Russell went.
Rhinos were reduced to 12 men on 69 minutes when Crosby was sin-binned for dangerous contact on Darcy Lussick, before O’Brien struck his winning kick from 40 metres with four minutes left.
In the final seconds Moon missed with a similar effort.
Leeds Rhinos: Golding, Briscoe, Keinhorst, Moon, Briscoe, Sutcliffe, Myler, Crosby, Parcell, Singleton, Jones-Buchanan, Peteru, Thompson. Substitutes: Cuthbertson, Dwyer, Smith, Walters.
Toronto Wolfpack: O’Brien, Caton-Brown, Rawsthorne, Wheeler, Russell, McCrone, Wallace, Lussick, Beswick, Sims, Paterson, Emmitt. Substitutes: Buchbanan, Ackers, Sidlow, Krasniqi.
Referee: Robert Hicks (Oldham).