It looked like they had blown it when Salford twice levelled from six points down, but in the 79th minute Salford were penalised for knocking the ball out of Richie Myler’s grasp and Liam Sutcliffe kept his nerve to land the penalty from about 30 metres out.
The hooter sounded before Salford could restart. The success was Leeds’s first win against a Betfred Super League rival – other than Widnes Vikings –since April and Rhinos should be safe if they win at Championship side Halifax next week.
Rhinos’ opening try was a well-worked move, the in-form Tom Briscoe stepping over at the corner off Jack Walker’s excellent offload after Brad Singleton and Sutcliffe had handled.
It took Salford 13 minutes to get into Leeds’s half, courtesy of their first penalty and they scored when Josh Wood and Robert Lui combined to put Niall Evalds over.
Neither try was converted and the deadlock wasn’t broken again until a couple of minutes before the break.
Leeds were awarded a flurry of penalties early on, but Salford’s defence has improved hugely since their 20-0 loss at Emerald Headingley on Easter Monday.
They had a stroke of luck when Brett Ferres knocked on before Myler touched down, then – after Darrell Olpherts turned the ball straight back – Walker slipped when he appeared to be heading for the line.
That was the first of four successive sets on the visitors’ line. Salford were placed on a team warning after being penalised for the sixth time and Singleton was held up over the line.
The team warning had the desired effect on Salford and Leeds were heavily penalised for the rest of the game. From 6-1 at that point, the count was 6-3 at half-time and finished 10-10.
Greg Burke got over the line and was held up with Walker underneath him. That was an important contribution as Leeds scored out of the blue.
Sutcliffe’s neat pass put Jimmy Keinhorst into a gap inside his own half and he just had the legs to hold off the chasers, though again Sutcliffe could not convert.
A Myler kick almost created a try at the start of the second half, but the ball was grounded by a defender in-goal and Keinhorst knocked-on following the drop-out. Seven minutes into the half Walker was pulled up for a forward pass near Leeds’s line on the first tackle, then Rhinos were penalised for dissent.
Salford took a tap and Joey Lussick was held up over the line by Adam Cuthbertson. Ed Chamberlain crossed, but knocked on in Luke Briscoe’s tackle before he could get the ball down.
Salford were penalised for interference on Cameron Smith and Sutcliffe kicked the penalty to open a six-point gap.
All season Leeds have looked vulnerable after they score. Sutcliffe sent a kick out on the full in the set from the restart and Rhinos were reduced to 12 when Ferres was sin-binned for alleged dangerous contact on Tyrone McCarthy.
From the penalty Burke crashed over and Chamberlain converted to level the scores.
Myler kept Rhinos level with a brilliant ball-and-all tackle to wrap Lui up on the last Seconds later a penalty carried Leeds upfield and Myler and Sutcliffe created an opportunity for Tom Briscoe who zipped over for his second try.
Sutcliffe landed a touchline goal, but Olpherts went over soon afterwards and Chamberlain converted to make it 16-16.
A knock-on by Walker almost cost Leeds, but Jansin Turgut and Craig Kopczak were held up over the line as Leeds scrambled for their lives.
Then Matt Parcell charged Lui’s drop goal attempt down and regathered, Salford were penalised and the crucial penalty came when Myler fainted to go for a one-pointer and attempted to hit a gap instead.
Leeds Rhinos: Walker, T. Briscoe, Keinhorst, Moon, L. Briscoe, L. Sutcliffe, Myler, Crosby, Dwyer, Singleton, Ferres, Jones-Buchanan, Thompson. Substitutes: Parcell, Cuthbertson, Peteru, Smith.
Salford Red Devils: Evalds, Bibby, Chamberlain, Welham, Olpherts, Lui, Wood, Tasi, Lussick, Lannon, Jones, McCarthy, Flanagan. Substitutes: Kopczak, Murray, Burke, Turgut.
Referee: James Child (RFL)