Leeds Rhinos held their nerve after throwing away a big early lead to beat St Helens 30-18 in an entertaining Super League clash at Headingley.
Last year’s treble winners went into the match in desperate need of the points after a torrid start to the season and they were celebrating at the end of a frenetic 80 minutes.
Leeds raced into a 16-0 lead inside 11 minutes through tries from Jamie Jones-Buchanan – on his 300th Super League appearance – Adam Cuthbertson and Liam Sutcliffe.
Saints came storming back and looked set to go into the break ahead courtesy of tries from Kyle Amor, Luke Walsh and Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, only for Carl Ablett to edge the Rhinos back ahead just before the half-time hooter.
Both sides continued to throw the ball around after the interval and it paid off for Leeds as Ash Handley touched down to extend their advantage before a Sutcliffe penalty secured a second win of the season for the Rhinos.
Leeds were 18-0 up after 14 minutes of last year’s corresponding fixture and they stormed out of the blocks again last night.
It was a first five minutes to forget for Jack Owens, who kicked into the grateful hands of Handley and saw the winger gain field position for Jones-Buchanan’s try from Keith Galloway’s offload and then kicked the restart out on the full before Cuthbertson crashed over from close range.
Sutcliffe improved both tries with his first goals of the campaign and then crossed himself after pouncing on a loose Alex Walmsley pass that was hacked on by Amor.
Amor gave Saints a lifeline by stepping his way under the posts in a repeat set forced by Walsh’s kick and then the scrum-half threw a dummy to score himself as the all-action start continued.
Both sides looked as if they would score at every opportunity but the next try did not arrive until three minutes before the break as Walsh’s flat pass put McCarthy-Scarsbrook through a huge hole in the Leeds defence.
Walsh made it three successful conversions to edge St Helens in front for the first time only for Leeds to respond on the stroke of half-time.
Ablett, back in the side after a four-match injury absence, picked up the ball in an unthreatening position 25 metres out but took advantage of generous tackling by Shannon McDonnell and Walsh to touch down.
Sutcliffe made no mistake from in front of the posts to make it 22-18 at the interval and there was no letting up from either side at the start of the second half as the action resembled a sevens match.
Handley denied Owens with a brilliant chase and tackle before Matty Dawson did likewise to haul down Kallum Watkins.
It was a matter of time before the game’s next try and it was Leeds who got it when Handley collected Beau Falloon’s kick to dive over.
Sutcliffe converted to give the Rhinos a 10-point cushion and then nudged his side further ahead with a penalty after Saints were caught offside at the play of the ball.
Zak Hardaker and Brett Ferres denied McDonnell what appeared to be a certain try in the dying minutes before McCarthy-Scarsbrook was sin-binned just before the final hooter for a professional foul.
Rhinos coach Brian McDermott was pleased with most of his side’s performance.
“It was end-to-end stuff,” McDermott reflected. “A bit too fast.
“There were some passages I think both coaches will be unhappy with, but also some passages I was really pleased with. There some defensive errors and try-savers which were probably created from some initial loose defence, then we ended up saving the try – which kept us in the game.
“There were some moments when we had some poor defence, but even in that set we came up with some outstanding passages of defence to keep them out.
“What you have got there is two teams who can play and attack. Saints didn’t just walk through some flimsy tackles, they had to break us down.
“You have to give them some credit, it wasn’t just poor D.”
Leeds: Hardaker, Handley, Watkins, Moon, Hall, Sutcliffe, Burrow, Galloway, Falloon, Cuthbertson, Ablett, Ferres, Jones-Buchanan. Substitutes: Lilley, Mullally, Walters, Delaney.
St Helens: McDonnell, Makinson, Peyroux, Dawson, Owens, Turner, Walsh, Walmsley, Roby, Amor, Vea, Greenwood, Wilkin. Substitutes: McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Tasi, Richards, Thompson.
Referee: B Thaler (RFL).