THE QUALIFIERS are still their likely destination, but Leeds Rhinos kept their faint top-eight hopes alive for a little longer after finally ending their three-month losing run.
After eight successive defeats and a draw, Rhinos walloped Widnes Vikings 34-0 to pick up their first Betfred Super League victory since a 20-18 win at Hull KR on April 29.
The opposition, who are bottom of the table and have now lost 15 league games in a row, were very poor, but Rhinos played some good stuff and their first victory under director of rugby Kevin Sinfield and first-team coach James Lowes – who watched the game from the upper level of the South Stand – should boost their confidence.
Huddersfield Giants’ shock win at Castleford Tigers last night means Rhinos will be condemned to the middle-eights if both Catalans Dragons – at home to Salford Red Devils today – and Wakefield Trinity, against visitors Hull tomorrow, win.
But Leeds did their part and there are signs the new backroom duo are getting their ideas across.
Rhinos dominated the first half last night, but took a while to get on top and it was only 8-0 five minutes before the break.
Two tries in the final moments of the half opened a 20-0 lead and Leeds added 10 points to that by the 47th minute. The game got scrappy after that and Rhinos added just one more try.
Dom Crosby, the ex-Wigan prop signed from Warrington on a loan deal until the end of the season, made his debut off the bench.
Luke Briscoe came in for his third Leeds appearance of the season on the left-wing, scoring a good try and making one remarkable slip-type catch near his own line from a kick by Weller Hauraki.
Stevie Ward (concussion) and Brett Ferres (fractured leg) dropped out due to injury and Ashton Golding and Josh Walters were omitted from the team which drew against Wakefield last week.
Walters, along with Cameron Smith and Luke Briscoe, has been named on dual-registration in Featherstone Rovers’ initial squad for tomorrow’s crucial Betfred Championship game at home to London Broncos. Rovers coach John Duffy was in the crowd, sitting alongside Bradford Bulls chief executive Andrew Chalmers.
Brad Dwyer hasn’t had the opportunity to show what he can do since joining Rhinos from Warrington in the closed-season.
He did a good job against Wakefield and retained his place in the starting lineup, despite Matt Parcell’s return.
That vote of confidence may have been just what he needed and he was outstanding, particularly early on as Leeds took the game to Widnes, eventually scoring a stunning solo try to get them off the mark.
Widnes have high hopes for young full-back Olly Ashall-Bott and he twice denied Dwyer in the opening exchanges, dealing with the hooker’s kick to concede a drop out and then making a try-saving tackle.
Former Leeds forward Hauraki did well to shut the door on Carl Ablett as he threatened to go clear from Dwyer’s pass, then Widnes’ Danny Walker was sin-binned for a foul on Ash Handley and Rhinos scored two tries against 12 men.
Widnes almost scored when Charly Runciman broke from a scrum deep in the visitors’ territory, but Jack Walker’s ankle tap brought him down.
Leeds went ahead moments later, after 17 minutes, Dwyer bursting past three defenders from acting-half 40 metres out.
Though Sutcliffe had landed four goals from as many attempts last week, Richie Myler took kicking duties. He missed with his first two and finished with three goals from seven attempts.
Widnes put together their first good move, but Joe Mellor knocked on inside Leeds’s half and Luke Briscoe reacted quickly to pick up, turn and race clear on the free play.
Rhinos scored two tries in the final five minutes of the half to open the sort of lead which reflected their dominance.
Their third try came in the set after Ashall-Bott had been pulled back for crossing when dashing towards Leeds’s line.
The visitors held out for five tackles, but then Parcell picked out Myler and he crashed over for a score which he also converted.
Then Rhinos kept the ball alive in good fashion, switching from left to right before Handley popped out a lovely offload to Parcell and he had the pace, just to get over the line.
Myler added his second goal and Leeds led 20-0 at the interval.
Gid Dudson knocked on in the first set after the break and Joel Moon ghosted through poor defence to extinguish any fears Rhinos might let the game slip.
Tom Briscoe joined his younger brother on the scoresheet with a good finish after Handley had tipped the ball on. There was no further score until Walker capped a strong game by getting over from Myler’s pass.
Walker went off hurt soon afterwards which was a blot on an otherwise decent night for Rhinos. Hauraki was sin-binned in the final moments.
Leeds: Walker, T. Briscoe, Handley, Hall, L. Briscoe, Moon, Myler, Garbutt, Dwyer, Singleton, L. Sutcliffe, Ablett, Cuthbertson. Substitutes: Oledzki, Keinhorst, Crosby, Parcell.
Widnes: Ashall-Bott, Ah Van, Runciman, Inu, Buckley, Mellor, Craven, T. Chapelhow, D. Walker, Dudson, Whitley, Hauraki, Leuluai. Substitutes: Wilde, Wellington, B. Walker, J. Chapelhow.
Referee: James Child (RFL)