St Helens must have been licking their lips when they saw second-row Rhyse Martin and loose-forward Cameron Smith lining up as playmakers for injury-hit Leeds in Saturday’s Betfred Challenge Cup third round tie.
Granted, the Super League champions did duly knock out the holders, who were missing 11 regulars and almost an entire backline, to set up a quarter-final with Huddersfield Giants.
However, it was not until Tommy Makinson’s 79th-minute try they were able to settle the contest 26-18, even with Leeds having also been reduced to 12 men following Zane Tetevano’s red card.
Rhinos who hope to have a couple of players back from injury and will give a debut to Kyle Eastmond for Thursday’s visit of Wigan Warriors, adapted their style against Saints and tried to bludgeon their way through while showing real steel in defence.
With numerous youngsters featuring they almost caused a shock and arguably they will have got more out of the tie than Saints.
“We are proud and it shows what team spirit we have,” Leeming, the 25-year-old England Knights international, told The Yorkshire Post.
“We are going through a tough patch but we’ll be out of it in the next couple of weeks when we get some players back.
“That’s the most disheartening thing really; I think if we’d have had a full team for the last three weeks we’d be three from three.
“But everyone who has stepped in has been fantastic and we’ve learned some lessons from the team that we put out and the way we’ve had to play. That will be good for us going forward.”
Leeds were missing all their first-team half-backs – Luke Gale, Robert Lui, Richie Myler, Callum McLelland and Eastmond – against Saints plus the likes of Konrad Hurrell, Harry Newman, Ash Handley, Liam Sutcliffe and Jack Walker.
They won their Super League opener against Wakefield Trinity but were edged out by Castleford Tigers in their next game and Wigan will pose another considerable challenge.
However, former Huddersfield hooker Leeming believes the 80 minutes against Saints, and adapting their game-plan without any recognised half-backs, has prepared them well.
“We knew we’d struggle with our kicking game in their half so we just spoke about running it on the last plays which sometimes we did and did well,” he said.
“Other times we kicked and it ended up being seven tackles which wasn’t great but we knew it was going to be scruffy at times.
“We just tried to get to a post, play everything off nine and go through the middle of them. We actually saw it as an advantage.
“We were just going to batter through them and see if they could live with us. For big parts of the game we were on top.
“We just lacked a bit of finesse, a bit of elegance scoring out wide which is why you have half-backs. We’ll go again and move forward.”
Tetevano, the abrasive Kiwi loose-forward who has proved so forceful for Richard Agar’s side, has been handed a Grade D charge for his late, high challenge on Theo Fages.
It could result in a five-game ban although the club will challenge that at today’s disciplinary.
Leeds, though, only further raised their performance when he was dismissed and Leeming said: “Saints couldn’t wait for that game to end.
“With 12 men against the top, form team and reigning champions it’s a tough ask. But it shows the character and spirit we have.
“We will keep fighting and don’t ever write us off. That’s what we want to be known as: no matter which team we’ve got – young, old, man down – just don’t write us off. We have set a benchmark now. For defence and attack.
“We’ve found things out that maybe we wouldn’t if we’d had a full team playing. We might actually change the way we play, even when we’ve a full team, to suit what we showed against Saints.”
Leeming was impressed with debuting second-row Morgan Gannon, the 17-year-old son of former Huddersfield and Halifax prop Jim Gannon.
He said: “I travel in with him and he’s very professional, has an old head beyond his years, trains really hard, is really solid and so strong for a 17-year-old.
“The stuff he does in training and the way he goes about his business, I think he’s going to be a special player.
“He’s almost a dying breed: tough as nails, just gets on with it, no moaning and he’s good to have around. Hopefully, he’ll get a couple more games this year and we’ll see what he’s about.”
One thing is for sure: this Leeds team has shown it will battle on through any sort of adversity.
Meanwhile, Leeming and Mikolaj Oledzki have been called into the England squad which is training in Leeds today.
Neither was named in a 35-man group announced last week, but Rhinos coach Richard Agar said both have been invited to join the session at Leeds Beckett University.
Clubmates Harry Newman, Ash Handley and Luke Gale were all included in the training squad, but are injured and will not attend.
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