OUTSTANDING HOOKER James Segeyaro bagged a match-winning brace of tries as Leeds Rhinos edged closer to a Super League spot for 2017 with a frantic 22-18 win over Hull KR last night.
A poor-quality game built throughout the second half to a tremendously exciting finale and Leeds just about shaded it to condemn the visitors to their first-ever defeat in the Qualifiers.
For the second time in less than a month, Leeds shared the tries with the Robins – three each – but won on goal kicks.
Rovers had the better of an opening quarter which was high on effort, low on thrills and skills and totally lacking in points.
Leeds came more into it after that and scored a good try, but were fortunate to be 8-0 up at the break, the only other points coming from a penalty late on.
Rovers were level within 10 minutes of the resumption, but Leeds went two ahead soon after.
Again they extended that to eight and again the Robins came back. Three tries were scored in the final six minutes and the result was in the balance right until the end, the last try coming on the final play of the contest.
Performance-wise, Leeds were gritty, but overall it was a step back from how they have been playing, despite fielding another strong line-up. Adam Cuthbertson was recalled to the side on the bench in place of Brett Delaney – who suffered a dislocated kneecap against Featherstone – in Leeds’ only team change.
Delaney was the sole player on Rhinos’ casualty list. By comparison, five of the team who played last night – Tom Briscoe, Ryan Hall, Brett Ferres, Jimmy Keinhorst and mid-season signing Segeyaro – did not feature when Hull KR won at Headingley in April.
Stevie Ward, who returned to training on Monday after 11 months on the sidelines, following three knee operations and surgery on a shoulder, warmed up as 18th man.
Rovers’ injury problems had also eased considerably since their 24-20 home loss to Leeds on their ground three weeks ago, with Iain Thornley, Shane Lunt, Mitch Allgood, Chris Clarkson, James Donaldson and David Thompson all coming in to give the them a much stronger look.
Captained by Leeds old boy Clarkson, Rovers fired a warning shot inside the opening five minutes when Albert Kelly found some space and sent Allgood galloping towards the line, but Hall got across to make the tackle. Leeds were stretched, but Kelly’s kick to the corner was too strong.
Thornley was halted a few metres out and back-to-back penalties threatened to create an opening for the visitors, but Hall intercepted Kelly’s pass.
It took Leeds a quarter of the game to force their first chance, but Brett Ferres could not take the final pass after quick hands between Kallum Watkins and Tom Briscoe.
The hosts began to build some pressure after that, but the opening came following a mistake by Rovers, Ben Cockayne knocking on close to his own line after he seemed to have spotted a gap in midfield.
That was punished following the scrum as Segeyaro, Rob Burrow, Danny McGuire and Liam Sutcliffe worked the ball to Watkins, who ran diagonally to the line. Sutcliffe landed a superb touchline conversion.
Watkins threatened again moments later, but his pass went behind Briscoe into touch. At the other end Allgood should have gone over from Adam Walter’s offload, but knocked on, then Walker did cross, but Sutcliffe did really well to prevent him getting the ball down.
Briscoe intercepted near his own line to end an attack which looked like producing the visitors’ first try, then Leeds got a relieving penalty following a scuffle sparked by a high tackle.
Sutcliffe made a half-break in the resulting set, but didn’t use McGuire, in support. Walker then took took long getting off Burrow and Leeds did the sensible thing, Sutcliffe kicking a long-range, but straight penalty to make it 8-0 a minute before the break. Even then Rovers could have got something from the half. Lunt went over following a Rhinos error, but the whistle had already gone; then from the scrum Kelly slung out a long pass, which Sio could not take.
Leeds shot themselves in the foot just three minutes into the second half, when Carl Ablett spilled McGuire’s pass and big forward James Greenwood picked up and showed surprising pace to rumble over from 40 metres out.
Josh Mantellato narrowed the gap to two points with the conversion, but Leeds almost grabbed a second try when Watkins flicked out a pass to Briscoe a few metres from the line, Rovers’ left-side defence did brilliantly to close him down and he knocked on over the whitewash.
At the other end Hall spilled a huge bomb and the visitors should have scored from the repeat set, but Kelly fumbled.
Referee Phil Bentham then penalised Leeds in possession – Keith Galloway allegedly pulling the leg of the marker defender - and Mantellato levelled the scores with the penalty.
That was on 50 minutes, but parity lasted only five, until a penalty for holding down in front of the posts – after Kelly’s poor offloaded had put Rovers in trouble – which Sutcliffe converted.
McGuire failed to take the high, hanging restart and Keinhorst was immediately penalised, but Rovers opted not to try for the two and a forward pass let Leeds off the hook.
They also got away with an error by Watkins near his own line and as the game got increasingly frantic Briscoe had an offload intercepted just short and Thomas Minns broke away on the final tackle, with support, but could not get a pass out.
Leeds’ second try, when it finally came with 13 minutes left, was appropriately scrappy, Segeyaro picking up at acting-half after Sutcliffe had gone close and then taking advantage of confusion among the markers to barge his way over.
In the set from the re-start Segeyaro dashed into space and handed on to Keinhorst, who supplied McGuire. His pass was intercepted by Cockayne, who lost it and Hall picked up to go over.
Bentham was ready to award the try, but a touchjudge intervened and the touchdown was ruled out, presumably for a forward pass.
Greenwood was held up over the line and had a try ruled out, on the same touchjudge’s say-so, but Bentham awarded the visitors successive penalties and the pressure finally told when James Donaldson crashed over from Lunt’s pass and Mantellato made it a two-point ball game again, with six minutes left.
The comedy of errors continued as the re-start was knocked on by Walker, Rovers conceded a scrum and Segeyaro went over for his second try from acting-half. Sutcliffe added the extras and that should have been it, with three minutes to play.
But Bentham awarded Rovers two tries after Leeds failed to cope with the short re-start and George Lawler crossed, Cockayne missing the conversion with the final kick of the game. The penalty count finished 12-5 to Rovers (4-3 in their favour in the first half). The officials weren’t particularly good.
The Headingley pitch had been reseeded since Rhinos’ previous home game a month ago. It cut up in places, but should have time to bed in with Leeds not back on their own turf until Salford’s visit on September 2.