Leeds’s first visit to The Shay since 2003 attracted a crowd of more than 4,000 and they saw Halifax, a team of part-time players, do themselves proud.
Rhinos fielded eight members of last year’s Grand Final-winning team, but were given a huge fright in the first half.
Halifax received a standing ovation as they left the field for the half-time break all square at 6-6.
Inevitably, full-time fitness told in the final 40 minutes when Rhinos scored five tries without reply, but Halifax were far from disgraced.
“If the game had only been 40 minutes I would have been very happy,” Halifax’s coach Richard Marshall reflected afterwards.
“I thought we absorbed a lot of pressure in that first half. Our goalline defence was really good.
“That was probably one of the reasons why we conceded so many in the second half, because of the work we did in the first half.
“We put everything into that first 40 minutes. I can’t ask any more than that.”
Marshall was far from deflated by the way things went after the break.
“They were class,” he said of Leeds.
“They raised the temp of the game. They must have spoken about that at half-time.
“I’ve got to credit Leeds. They needed to win and they’ve done so.
“We didn’t have any ball in the second half. Leeds would have been nervous and edgy coming off at half-time, but a couple of class individuals took the game away from us.
“It’s something we’d looked at and knew about, but knowing about it and dealing with it are two different things.”
Rhinos went ahead after only five minutes when Joel Moon dabbed a kick infield for Richie Myler, who read it superbly to run through and touch down.
Liam Sutcliffe landed the first of his five conversions, but Halifax worked their way into the game and levelled on the half-hour through Steve Tyrer who gathered Scott Murrell’s cross kick on the last and also tagged on the conversion.
Leeds hooker Brad Dwyer’s introduction off the bench made a huge difference and he crossed on 41 and 50 minutes to settle the visitors’ nerves.
The game was ended as a contest on 54 when Sutcliffe sliced through for a brilliantly-taken solo try.
Halifax refused to cave in, but Leeds added two more tries late on, Cameron Smith crossing and then providing the final pass for Luke Briscoe.
Halifax finished with 12 men after Ben Heaton was sin-binned two minutes from time for a high shot on Tom Briscoe.
“We are not too despondent,” Marshall insisted. “We can see there’s potential here at this club and imagine if we managed to get back into Super League.
“We would be up there fighting. We have certainly got the fan base to support that.”
Rhinos’ win took them two points clear at the top of the Qualifiers table and all-but guaranteed they will be playing top-flight rugby next year.
They could afford to lose to Toronto Wolfpack on Friday by anything up to 31 points and still finish in the top-three, but director of rugby Kevin Sinfield will want to see his team perform better than they did in the first half yesterday.
“Credit to Halifax, I thought they threw a whole lot of good things at us,” he said.
“Richard Marshall has done a fantastic job with his team and at 6-6 I thought they were well worth it.
“We felt we were in control after 15 minutes and invited Halifax in and they started to play and played some decent rugby.
“Thankfully, the second half was a little bit different.
“We raised the intensity, our strength in our carries was a lot better in that second period and I thought Brad Dwyer came on and really sparked us.
“He was dynamite in and around the dummy-half position.”
Halifax: Moss, Woodburn-Hall, Tyrer, Butler, Sharp, Murrell, Johnston, Fleming, Kaye, Fairbank, Tangata, Grady, Moore. Substitutes: Jones, Heaton, Davies, Maher.
Leeds Rhinos: Walker, T Briscoe, Keinhorst, Moon, L Briscoe, L Sutcliffe, Myler, Crosby, Parcell, Singleton, Jones-Buchanan, Peteru, Thompson. Substitutes: Cuthbertson, Dwyer, Smith, Walters.
Referee: L Moore (Halifax).