THERE WERE two major positives from Leeds Rhinos’ 32-20 win over Hull yesterday, as well as some concerns.
The victory lifted Rhinos back into top spot in First Utility Super League and was a boost to their confidence ahead of Friday’s KC Stadium rematch, in a Ladbrokes Challenge Cup quarter-final.
But injuries to half-backs Liam Sutcliffe and Danny McGuire, and prop Adam Cuthbertson, took some of the shine off a good victory, in an intriguing clash.
Despite the looming rematch, neither team held back, though some errors – and interventions by the officials – made it quite scrappy at times.
Leeds led 16-6 at the break, thanks to two tries from kicks in the second quarter and were 12 points ahead after 55, but Hull cut the gap going into the final 20 minutes and Rhinos were only four clear with five left, before the score blew out in a bizarre finalé.
Both coaches presumably had an eye on Friday when they selected their line-up.
Rhinos’ Rob Burrow was rested and Cuthbertson and Jamie Peacock both started the game on the bench.
Zak Hardaker’s return after two games out due to an ankle injury allowed Sutcliffe to move to stand-off, though he lasted less than half an hour before damaging a knee in a tackle by Hull hooker Danny Houghton.
Kevin Sinfield, who started on the bench for the second successive game, had just come on as back-up hooker, but switched into the halves.
Joel Moon was also back after a similar lay-off – because of suspension and an Achilles problem – but Jimmy Keinhorst retained his place in the starting side, shifting into the second-row, where he has featured this year for Hunslet Hawks on dual-registration.
It was an inspired switch as Keinhorst scored one try and provided the final pass for two more in his best display for Leeds. Kylie Leuluai, in his second game after a near three-month injury absence, made his first start of the season in the front-row. Andy Yates was the other player to drop out from the team beaten by Castleford in Rhinos previous game.
Peacock, Cuthbertson and Sinfield all got on in the first half, but the other substitute Josh Walters – unused in the previous game – had to wait until the 58th minute.
Though he didn’t enter the action before half-time, his shorts did. Just before the break Carl Ablett was told by referee Robert Hicks to change his shirt, after being cut.
He then had to do the same with his shorts and after being unable to find a spare pair in the pile offered to him, Walters stripped off to offer his.
Hull boss Lee Radford also shuffled things around from his side’s previous game, with Jordan Rankin, Kirk Yeaman and Joe Westerman dropping out and being replaced in the 17 by Jamie Shaul, Curtis Naughton and Jordan Abdull.
Rhinos opened the scoring – for the first time in four games – after six minutes. Ablett and Sutcliffe worked the ball to McGuire and his long pass found Ryan Hall
The winger powered away and McGuire was in support to take the return pass and cross for a fine try, improved by Sutcliffe.
Hull levelled on 18, Jordan Thompson powering over after Stevie Ward’s ankle tap had denied Mark Minichiello, who later picked up a knock. Marc Sneyd converted.
Leeds responded quickly. Hardaker kicked cross-field towards Hall, the ball was palmed to Keinhorst and he did well to put Moon over, though there was no conversion.
Hull had an opportunity to get back in front through a break by Sneyd, who had Steve Michaels in support, but he didn’t pass and then lost the ball when he was smashed in Kallum Watkins’ tackle. At the other end Ablett got over the line, but was held up in a world-class tackle by Hull’s full-back Jamie Shaul.
Two minutes before the break Leeds moved two scores clear, again with a try off a kick. McGuire kicked to his left, Curtis Naughton dropped it and Keinhorst was alert enough to pick up and go over for a touchdown which Sinfield improved.
Keinhorst could have extended Leeds’ advantage on the final play of the half, but wasn’t able to take Moon’s pass.
Hull received two early penalties after the break and made the second count when Naughton atoned for his earlier error by diving over and touching down one-handed at the corner from Richard Whiting’s pass.
There was no goal and Leeds went 12 points clear 10 minutes later, following some good handling on the last.
Sinfield and McGuire were involved before Keinhorst slipped out an excellent offload to put Moon in for his second touchdown, which the captain converted.
Leeds seemed to have laid a platform to take the game out of Hull’s reach, but the visitors refused to be shaken off and they cut the game on the hour thanks to a smart off-load from Liam Watts, which put Houghton through a huge gap for a try which was converted by Sneyd. Big winger Fetuli Talanoa, who twice smashed the impressive Ward with huge hits in the first half – was held up over the line by Sinfield and Watkins with 11 minutes remaining.
Moments later McGuire burst clear, but Sneyd just managed to drag him down. The Hull man was penalised for holding on and – after a skirmish – yellow carded.
McGuire was hurt in the tackle and had to be helped off – and into the sin-bin, for retaliation.
It’ll be interesting to see what the match review panel make of Sneyd’s tackle, as the Leeds camp felt there was a twist of the leg.
The outcome was a penalty to Rhinos, which Sinfield kicked to open an eight-point gap.
Leeds thought that was enough and switched off, allowing Talanoa to cross from Jordan Abdull’s pass.
There was no goal, but at 24-20 it should have been a tense final five minutes. Instead, Leeds’ re-start bounced dead and then Hull failed to send the drop out the required 10 metres.
Sinfield kicked the penalty and, on the final play, he linked with Watkins to put Ablett over, before completing the scoring with his fifth goal after the hooter.
The penalty count finished 10-8 against Leeds (5-4 to Hull in the first half).
Hicks – and his various assistants – were quite poor, but Leeds were twice penalised 10 metres for dissent, which isn’t acceptable.