DEFENDING champions Leeds Rhinos are off the mark after scrambling a 20-16 win over fellow strugglers Huddersfield Giants last night.
It was a poor game, though the close nature of the score made it tense late on, but – after Leeds had lost their opening three league games – the relief at the final whistle was obvious.
The conditions didn’t help the quality of the contest. Though Rhinos’ groundstaff did an excellent job making the pitch playable, it looked like a game between two teams at the bottom of the table.
There was plenty of effort, but far too many mistakes and a high penalty count. Both teams will improve when they get players back from injury, but on this form they are where they deserve to be.
Rhinos went ahead – for the first time since the opening Super League game against Warrington exactly a month earlier – after eight minutes.
It was a good try. Zak Hardaker hoisted a high kick to the left flank Ryan Hall made a fine catch and dumped the ball back to Joel Moon, who juggled before getting the ball down.
Jordan Lilley landed a superb goal off the touchline, but it was all square on 15. Leeds’s try came in a penalty set, but Giants got the next five and the third of those, plus a repeat set off Sutcliffe, gave them the field position.
Rhinos’ defence had been strong up to that point, but they conceded in soft fashion when Danny Brough picked the ball up from acting half and scampered through a gap for a score which Jamie Foster improved.
A series of incidents went against the home side in the lead up to Giants’ second try, on the half hour.
Brough kicked to the right, the ball took a deflection off Hall’s hand and went straight to Jermaine McGillvary, who narrowed the angle enough to give Foster a simple kick.
Leeds pressed from the start of the second half and mistakes by Giants kept them camped near the visitors’ line, but they struggled to carve out any clear openings against a strong defence.
Rhinos’ second try eventually came with 21 minutes left, after successive penalties, Liam Sutcliffe bursting past three defenders from first receiver and Lilley keeping his nerve to add the conversion.
Having done all the pressing up to that stage, Leeds should have been able to go on with the game.
Instead the unfortunate Hall fumbled a low kick by Brough a few metres out, under no real pressure and Michael Lawrence crossed from Kruise Leeming’s pass in the resulting set.
Leeds’s heads could have dropped, but they didn’t. Crucially, Foster could not convert and Leeds were almost level when Jimmy Keinhorst hacked on, but McGillvary hacked the ball dead just before the German international got there.
Moments later Lilley grubbered over the line and this time Keinhorst got there just before the Giants winger.
Silverwood said no try, but the decision was overturned by video official Phil Bentham and Lilley landed a brilliant goal from the touchline to edge Leeds two points in front. With six minutes remaining Giants were penalised for interference and Lilley took the two to make it 20-16.
Rhinos dominated the second half territorially, on the back of an 8-1 penalty count, after it had been 7-5 in Giants’ favour in the first half.
Rhinos are understood to be keeping a close eye on scrum-half Ryan Brierley’s situation at Leigh Centurions.
The prolific try scorer handed in his notice earlier in the week and was last night suspended by his club. He is believed to be keen on a move to Headingley, but Rhinos have no room in their squad so may have to wait until next season to bring him in, if they decide to pursue the matter.
Leeds: Hardaker, Handley, Watkins, Moon, Hall, Sutcliffe, Lilley, Galloway, Burrow, Cuthbertson, Delaney, Ferres, Singleton. Substitutes: Baldwinson, Keinhorst, Mullally, Walters.
Huddersfield: Murphy, McGillvary, Cudjoe, Lawrence, Foster, Connor, Brough, Rapira, Hinchcliffe, Smith, Ta’ai, Roberts, Patrick. Substitutes: J. Johnson, Leeming, Mason, Dickinson.
Referee: R Silverwood (RFL).