A QUICK-FIRE hat-trick from Joel Moon set Leeds Rhinos on course for an important, if ultimately very frustrating, 48-32 win at London Broncos yesterday.
London would have been looking to start well, stay in the contest for as long as possible and test Rhinos’ fragile confidence.
Those plans were shredded as Rhinos raced into a 16-0 lead after as many minutes and, though they conceded a soft try after that, an upset was never on the cards.
Leeds led by 22 points at half-time and were 48-10 ahead after an hour, but then their defence – which hadn’t been particularly strong to start with – fell apart in spectacular and very worrying fashion.
Leeds had the game won by that stage, but they conceded four tries in the final quarter and, against Betfred Championship opposition, that is not good enough.
To add to Rhinos’ woes, Ashton Golding hobbled off in obvious pain after being hurt in the final minute.
In their current situation the two points is all that matters and Rhinos got the job done, but their finish to the game took the gloss off what had been a morale-boosting performance.
Once again, when the momentum turned against Leeds they could not stem the tide. They were far enough in front for it not to matter in terms of the result, but they have to be much better.
London are a decent side, runners up in the second tier and unbeaten in their previous eight games, including a 21-20 victory at Super League side Widnes Vikings in their opening Qualifiers fixture.
They play on an artificial pitch, which Rhinos tend to struggle on, but Leeds should not have collapsed the way they did.
They obviously put the cue on the rack, but they aren’t a good enough team to do that and an opportunity to boost their confidence – and points difference – was wasted.
In the opening 40 Rhinos looked like scoring whenever they got close to London’s line and did on five occasions, including a spectacular long-range score by Luke Briscoe.
The question at half-time was whether Rhinos could keep their foot on Broncos’ throat and, typically this season, they couldn’t.
Their defence will have to be much better in their next game, at home to Hull KR, but Rhinos did play some good stuff on attack for the first hour.
Rhinos scored after 90 seconds. Brad Dwyer, who played the full game, forced a knock-on from Eddie Battye in London’s first set and from the scrum Richie Myler, Liam Sutcliffe and Golding moved the ball left to Moon and he was too powerful close to the line.
Kieran Dixon hammered the restart out on the full, Rhinos tapped the penalty and from that Moon was in again after Myler and Sutcliffe had handled.
Sutcliffe was off target with his first conversion attempt, but hit the target with his next seven and a penalty. His kicking has improved significantly since Kevin Sinfield’s return to the club as director of rugby.
Golding – restored to the starting line-up at full-back – showed his defensive mettle with a stunning try-saving tackle on 13 minutes after London hooker James Cunningham had dropped a shoulder and zipped into open space.
Dwyer didn’t have the pace to go all the way after he pounced on an error by Api Pewhairangi 20 metres from Leeds’ line after a spell on London pressure.
But Broncos were caught offside and Myler sent Moon over for his third after a one-two with Brett Ferres.
Sutcliffe landed another superb touchline goal, but London did create chances and they pulled a try back two minutes into the second quarter.
Golding made another try-saver after Matt Davis had burst past the first line of defenders, then Battye was held up over the line by Carl Ablett and Brad Singleton.
But that good work was ruined when Dixon took the ball and nipped over from acting-half a few metres out for the sort of soft try a Super League side should not be conceding against lower-division opposition.
Broncos coach Danny Ward brought Jarrod Sammut on in place of Pewhairangi after Moon’s third try and the former Bradford and Wakefield pivot added the extras.
Stevie Ward – back from injury and illness among the substitutes – was held up over London’s line before Rhinos turned defence into attack to score their fourth try, after 29 minutes.
Cunningham was dragged down after another clean break, then Sammut’s kick to Rhinos’ left was well claimed by Luke Briscoe, who got past the first defender and scorched the length of the field to touch down between the posts.
In the set from the restart, Myler burst into space and though Golding, in support, was run down, Ferres crashed over from close range, Sutcliffe converting both to make it 28-6 at the interval.
Rhinos held out against three successive penalties at the start of the second half, then conceded an unconverted try to Rhys Williams on 48 minutes after Dixon had made big metres upfield from a 20-metre tap and Leeds’ right-side defence went missing.
But London’s Tom Spencer spilled the ball from the restart and, after a Rhinos penalty and near-misses by Golding and Ward, Ablett burst onto acting-half Dwyer’s pass to cross on the last. That settled whatever nerves Broncos’ second try might have caused and Leeds added another try five minutes later through Golding, who began the move when he picked up from a knock-on by Battye and finished from a one-two with Ferres.
Golding was tackled high as he touched down so referee Chris Kendall awarded a penalty as well as the try and Sutcliffe converted both.
Golding scored from a tremendous break by Ward a couple of minutes later and the conversion made it 48-10 with a quarter of the game remaining.
Broncos then found their attacking stride. Daniel Hindmarsh, who looks a good prospect in Broncos’ pack, and Ben Evans both went over from close range and Williams added his second touchdown before Ben Hellewell’s try and a fourth goal from Sammut completed the scoring.
Luke Briscoe started on the wing in place of Ryan Hall who suffered a season-ending knee injury in the win over Toulouse Olympique.
With Golding, a substitute in the previous game, restored at half-back, Sutcliffe moved to stand-off and Ablett was back into the second-row. Nathaniel Peteru started at prop in place of the suspended Dom Crosby.
Adam Cuthbertson dropped to the bench. Ward was among the substitutes after recovering from concussion and illness.
Jordan Thompson served the final match of his two-game ban and played on the casualty list alongside Hall were Kallum Watkins (knee), Matt Parcell (rib), Brett Delaney (fractured cheekbone) and Ash Handley (shoulder).
There was a touching moment on 33 minutes when Rhinos’ travelling fans applauded the memory of superfan Raymond Greenfield who collapsed and died before the Toulouse game.
The penalty count was 10-10. four-three in Leeds’ favour in the first half.