LEEDS RHINOS lost the battle last night, but it might mark a turning point in the war.
The 24-22 defeat at home to Huddersfield Giants was Leeds’ third in four Super League games and Rhinos will slip out of the top-two in First Utility Super League if Castleford Tigers win at Wigan Warriors tonight.
It was also Leeds’ fourth straight home defeat against Huddersfield, who are now unbeaten in seven against their West Yorkshire neighbours.
But it was a case of oh so near for Rhinos, who showed plenty of character for most of the game, only to be undone by a poor 20 minute spell after the break.
The game ended in highly controversial circumstances as Leeds mounted a last flourish after the hooter had sounded.
Some improvised attack culminated in Tom Briscoe appearing to touch down from Joel Moon’s kick, but after a long look – with everyone in the stadium holding their breath – video officials Steve Ganson and Phil Bentham ruled no try, deciding Briscoe had nudged the chasing defender as he chased the ball.
It looked a tough call from the stands, but the spirit Leeds showed with an under-strength team – and the way they battled back in the last 20 – gives them some real positives to build on.
The lively final quarter was in contrast to a strange, end-to-end first half, in which both sides enjoyed some classy moments, but gave the ball away too readily.
Rhinos put themselves under the greater pressure, but a combination of some excellent defence and Giants’ own blunders restricted the visitors to a single touchdown.
Leeds went ahead on five minutes, following a soft knock-on in midfield by ex-Leeds academy winger Jodie Broughton.
Ryan Bailey had a run following the scrum and was held down in front of the posts. Kevin Sinfield, Robbie Ward and Joel Moon all tested the defence from the penalty and then Jamie Peacock’s high offload was taken well by Sinfield.
He found Brett Delaney and Kallum Watkins was next in line, the centre breaking out of Joe Wardle’s tackle and evading Brough for a try which was converted by Sinfield.
The lead was short-lived though. Just four minutes later Sinfield kicked out on the full and in the subsequent set Kyle Wood put on some footwork and scythed through for a try out of the blue, improved by Brough.
On 20 minutes Sinfield’s kick in-goal was taken by Jermaine McGillvary, who was then grounded by the Leeds skipper and the drop-out led to Rhinos’ second touchdown.
It was a good one too, Ben Jones-Bishop cutting through from Moon’s pass – though referee Richard Silverwood handed the decision on and the video officials took a surprisingly long time to give the nod.
As expected Ben Jones-Bishop – whose touchdown took his tally to eight in seven appearances this term – came in at full-back for Rhinos, in place of Zak Hardaker as he began his five-game ban.
The surprise for Leeds was utility-player Luke Briscoe’s inclusion for his debut among the substitutes, in place of prop Brad Singleton, who was 18th man.
It was only his third Super League appearance after two on loan – the second of which was against Rhinos – for Wakefield Trinity Wildcats earlier in the campaign.
The youngster – who was used as a centre at Wakefield – came on after 33 minutes, at hooker. Ian Kirke apart, Rhinos had a light-weight bench, which also included teenger Josh Walters in his second senior appearance – and Chris Clarkson.
By contrast, Giants’ substitutes were Jason Chan, Larne Patrick, David Faiumu and Ukuma Ta’ai.
Also missing were long-termers Paul Aiton, Rob Burrow, Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Mitch Achurch, while Carl Ablett was completing his two-game suspension.
Danny McGuire had been named in the initial 19-man squad, but remained sidelined due to a calf muscle injury.
Rhinos defended magnificently to keep Giants out from two penalties on their own line soon after Jones-Bishop’s try.
Robbie Ward and Jones-Bishop held Brett Ferres up over the line, before Brough’s kick to the corner was taken by McGillvary and he looked set to score, but Ryan Hall, Moon and Liam Sutcliffe combined to pull him down. McGillvary did get over the line seven minutes into the second half, after Jones-Bishop lost the ball in a tackle.
Watkins made a fine try-saving tackle on Broughton, but the defence was stretched and Giants worked the ball to their right for Aaron Murphy to put his winger over, Brough levelling the scores with a fine touchline conversion.
Then 10 minutes later CLarkson was penalised for a flop and by the time Leeds were next in possession they were 12 points down.
In the set from the penalty Crabtree crashed over to nudge Huddersfield ahead and from the re-start Ferres split the defence and Wardle was in support, Brough adding both conversions to make it 24-12.
Leeds hadn’t threatened since half-time, but on 61 Bailey rumbled over from Watkins’ offload, though again the video referees took a frustratingly long time to make the decision.
Sinfield could not convert, crucially as it turned out, leaving the hosts still two scores adrift. But they narrowed the gap further almost immediately through a nice finish from Liam Sutcliffe who picked up after Sinfield’s kick had come off a defender and went on a jinking run to the corner, from where his skipper added the extras to cut the gap to two points.
Huddersfield thought they had won it when Brough’s long pass was finished by Broughton, but the video referees ruled obstruction.
There were more fun and games with the ridiculous obstruction rule which is making watching the sport at the moment so frustrating.
Both teams were penalised, but at one stage Leeds were pulled up for crossing near their own line and in the resulting set a much more blatant example, on half-way, was ignored.
In the set from the disallowed try Leeds themselves were penalised for the same so-called offence
The penalty count finished seven-six against Leeds (five-three in Giants’ favour in the opening period).
Meanwhile, the Rhinos under-19s were beaten 30-10 in the curtain-raiser, by the Giants after trailing 18-0 at the break.
Sam Hallas and Dan Tai scored Leeds’ tries and Ben White – who has been playing on loan at Gloucester All Golds in Championship One – landed a goal.