Champions Leeds Rhinos will go into next Saturday’s Carnegie Challenge Cup semi-final in good heart after a solid 21-6 win over Hull at Headingley Carnegie.
Wigan Warriors will present a much tougher challenge than the injury-hit East Yorkshire outfit, but you can only beat what’s in front of you and Leeds did the job in good style, for the most part.
This was Leeds’ fourth successive win, all against teams below them in the Stobart Super League table and it keeps alive their hopes of a home tie in the play-offs.
Rhinos played well in the opening period and were full value for their 14-0 interval lead, though they could have been further in front on balance of play.
They extended their advantage to 20 points immediately after the break and, with the game won, stepped off the gas after that in attacking terms as the conditions began to take their toll, though their defence remained strong.
Hull didn’t throw much at Leeds and their only try came from a Rhinos error off a kick, but another good defensive effort was the most encouraging aspect of a good win.
As it was against London six days earlier, Leeds’ scrambling on their own line showed a real desperation, something they will need to maintain to keep their Wembley hopes alive.
It hasn’t been against the best opposition, but Leeds have conceded just three tries in their last two games and both were from mistakes.
Avenging the 34-20 defeat at KC Stadium two months ago will also give Leeds added confidence going into the final third of the campaign.
Rhinos drew first blood after 12 minutes with a try created by two players promoted back into the starting line-up.
Ryan Bailey contributed a couple of storming spells. His superb charge down and pick up of a Brett Seymour kick put the hosts on the attack and then Carl Ablett twisted over from acting-half Shaun Lunt’s pass.
Rhinos were without forwards Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Kylie Leuluai, who were both rested after playing in the International Origin game two days earlier.
Rob Burrow and Ablett both backed up, playing their third game in seven days, along with Hull’s Tom Briscoe and Willie Manu.
Burrow was on the bench, so Lunt got a start. Jamie Peacock and Brett Delaney returned to Leeds starting line-up and – with Weller Hauraki sidelined by a rib injury – Bailey stepped up off the bench to loose-forward and Stevie Ward switched to the second-row. Richard Moore returned among the substitutes.
Ward isn’t the biggest player, but he got through a huge amount of work and played the full 80 minutes.
Hull’s injury problems were reflected in the fact assistant-coach Lee Radford, who supposedly hung up his boots last year, was among their substitutes.
Hull had Ryan McGoldrick at full-back, just hours after they confirmed his signing from Castleford Tigers until the end of the season.
It was the second successive Rhinos home game that McGoldrick has featured for the opposition, after being in the Tigers’ line-up 12 days earlier.
He had a good game and was one of Hull’s top performers, which was an impressive effort considering his lack of preparation time.
Also taking part in his second successive game at Headingley was referee Tim Roby and his controversial decision contributed to Rhinos’ second try.
Ben Crooks offloaded out of a tackle and Roby initially awarded a penalty to Hull, before changing his mind and giving the decision to Leeds.
Presumably he thought the tackle on Crooks had been completed before he passed, but big screen replays suggested it wasn’t.
In the subsequent set Kevin Sinfield’s pass found Delaney and he used the wet surface to slide over.
Rhinos got over the line three times without reward in the second quarter and should have made more of a hefty 7-2 penalty count in their favour.
First, Briscoe knocked on in a tackle by Danny McGuire and Ablett and Sinfield picked up to scamper over, but video referee Ian Smith spotted the faintest of knock-ons by Leeds’ No 6.
Then Lunt twice got across the line, but was held up – as was Seymour on one occasion at the other end, by Bailey and Zak Hardaker.
Lunt had a fine game before being replaced by Burrow after 47 minutes.
Leeds were awarded six successive penalties before the break and from the last of those – against Willie Manu for passing off the ground – Sinfield kicked his third goal to make it 14-0.
It took the champions just three minutes of the second period to extend their advantage, through winger Ryan Hall’s 20th touchdown of the season.
He slid over from the in-form Ablett’s long pass after Lunt and McGuire had handled following good work by Sinfield – who landed a splendid touchline conversion – earlier in the set.
The captain was an excellent controlling influence for the home side and his kicking game, in very wet conditions, was top-class – as was the chase.
Hull didn’t have to work for their opening touchdown, Richard Horne following up his own kick to touch down after Ben Jones-Bishop had fumbled. Joe Westerman added the extras.
That gave Hull a glimmer of hope, but they lacked direction in attack and made too many errors to put Rhinos under any real pressure.
With Leeds also struggling to complete a set the game stagnated in the final quarter, the only addition to the scoring being a Sinfield drop goals three minutes from time.
The penalty count finished a lopsided 13-4 in Rhinos’ favour. They were awarded nine in succession either side of the break.