IT IS not mathematically done and dusted, but the 36-10 win at London Broncos has effectively secured Leeds Rhinos’ Betfred Super League survival.
With two rounds remaining, Rhinos are four points clear of bottom club London and hold what is surely an insurmountable advantage on for and against.
Leeds’ six-try-to-two success boosted their points difference to minus eight and London’s is now negative 277.
Broncos may yet stay up, but it won’t be at Leeds’ expense and the pressure is off Rhinos’ tough final two games of the campaign, at home to Salford Red Devils and Warrington Wolves.
In front of a ground record crowd of 3,051, it was emphatic in the end, though not quite as straight-forward and the 26-point margin suggests.
Leading 18-0 at half-time, the game was Rhinos’ to lose and they looked to be making a pretty good stab of it for the opening 28 minutes of the second half.
Two self-inflicted wounds – an interception and a defensive blunder – allowed Broncos to storm back and the tension mounted until Ash Handley maintained his remarkable try-scoring form with the crucial touchdown 13 minutes from time.
That opened a 12-point gap and, when Rhyse Martin landed a superb kick from tight to the left-hand touchline to put three scores between the teams, it was game over.
Aided by some silliness from the home team, who ended with 11 players on the field, Rhinos added two more late tries and Martin maintained his 100 per cent record with the boot.
This was one of those games when only the result mattered and Leeds played well for three-quarters of it.
They were excellent in the first half and rampant at the end, but London’s fightback made it interesting. In the first half, Rhinos were clinical on attack and displayed a terrific attitude to defence, but London shocked them by stepping up a gear after half-time.
Leeds, searching for the next score which would have put the game out of London’s reach, went away from what worked in the opening period.
They conceded some unnecessary penalties in possession, and began to make mistakes which sapped some of their confidence and boosted London’s.
However, Handley’s try left the home team with too much to do and Rhinos played well after that and were deserved winners.
They led from the seventh minute when Luke Briscoe pounced on an error by Elliot Kear to race over from 30 metres.
London applied some heavy pressure following that, but Leeds’ defensive effort was impressive, particularly when they refused to crack throughout five consecutive sets in their 20.
Mikolaj Oledzki – recalled to the side for the first time since June – got underneath Luke Yates to prevent him grounding the ball over Leeds’ line.
Brett Ferres put on a big shot to wrap up Brock Lamb, ball and all, Richie Myler pulled down the same player and then Handley and Jack Walker did well to keep opposite number Kieran Dixon out when London seemed to have found a gap on their right.
The tackle forced the ball loose, Leeds won a penalty and in that set – which saw Trent Merrin involved three times – Ava Seumanufagai crashed over for his first Rhinos try, from acting-half Brad Dwyer’s short pass.
Dwyer was selected as the only hooker, with Shaun Lunt left out, and played the full 80.
Dwyer was the try saver, along with Briscoe and Martin, when he forced Eddie Battye – who looked certain to score – into touch at the flag. Rob Butler held Dwyer up over the line from acting-half and Adam Cuthbertson was pulled down just short of it by ex-Leeds man Jay Pitts.
Leeds had another chance when Ferres seemed to have found space, but was kept out by Alex Walker and then – with three minutes of the half remaining – Dwyer tried a drop goal attempt which didn’t get off the ground.
It seemed they would have to settle for, at best, a 12-point interval lead, but a length-of-the-field move gave them added breathing space.
Harry Newman made a brilliant take from Jordan Abdull’s tricky cross-kick near Leeds’ line and, in the resulting set, Ferres shrugged out of a tackle and into clear space.
Jack Walker was in support on his right shoulder, took the well-timed pass and skipped past namesake and opposite number Alex for a fine try two minutes before the interval.
It was a fine opening 40 from Leeds as well, but some of their good work was undone in the opening couple of minutes after the break.
Having played conservatively throughout the opening 40, they went for the killer blow after Yates knocked on in the first set. The ball was moved from side to side, leaving London looking flat-footed, but then Walker’s pass aimed at Handley was intercepted by Dixon and he scorched almost the full length for a reviving try which he also converted.
With 12 points in it, the game was back in the balance and London had some wind in their sails. They almost scored again on 54 minutes after a spill by Briscoe gave them a repeat set. Merrin and Dwyer did well to keep Matt Gee out, then Rhys Williams got to Abdull’s cross-kick ahead of Briscoe, but knocked-on as he twisted over the line.
Leeds were penalised for obstruction in possession twice in the third quarter. The second of those penalties – London’s fourth in succession – led to another touchdown.
Hurrell shot out of the line looking for an interception when Lamb moved the ball right, but the Leeds man missed and Ryan Morgan made a catch and shot through the open door, though Dixon could not add the extras.
After the early flurry which led to London’s first try, Rhinos didn’t mount a serious attack until 13 minutes from time. That came after London were penalised, correctly, for offside from a kick near Leeds’ line and then marched 10 metres for dissent.
On the last, Dwyer, Myler and Hurrell moved the ball left and Handley finished strongly at the corner.
That was his 22nd try of the season, moving him one clear of Niall Evalds at the top of the Super League list.
Cameron Smith, recalled to the team among the substitutes, was held up over London’s line by James Cunningham, Battye and Kear, then Walker, Briscoe, Handley and Newman combined in a long-range move.
Dixon produced a sensational tackle to halt the centre short of the line, but held on too long and was sin-binned for the professional foul. Leeds tapped the penalty and a fumble by Smith prevented a try in that set, but soon afterwards – with five left – Liam Sutcliffe, who had just been introduced, broke and Walker was in support to score the visitors’ fifth and final touchdown.
There was still time for Dwyer to force his way over from acting-half – after Kear had been yellow-cared for dissent
The penalty count finished eight-five in Leeds’ favour, (three-three at half-time).