LEEDS RHINOS have secured their place in the Super League semi-finals, but they were made to work mighty hard for a 38-26 win over Challenge Cup winners Hull.
Rhinos led by 10 points at the break after Hull had twice levelled the scores and the visitors refused to lie down in the second half, despite Leeds looking set to take control on several occasions.
Hull were made to play just five days after their Wembley win, which was ridiculous scheduling, but fielded a strong side and made a much better contest of it than might have been expected in the circumstances.
It was an entertaining clash with lots of incident, though there were too many penalties and the officials had a hard time keeping a lid on things.
Leeds’ victory guarantees a top-four finish and leaves them needing one win from their last three Super-8s fixtures to seal second place and a home play-off.
Rhinos played well in patches, but struggled to apply a killer touch and the result was in the balance until the final few minutes.
Rhinos had to reshuffle just before kick-off when Joel Moon, who had been due to start at stand-off, was injured in the warm up.
Rob Burrow, originally named among the substitutes, stepped up to start in the halves and Jimmy Keinhorst, who had warmed-up as 18th man, came in on the bench.
Keinhorst, an unused substitute for the previous two games, had originally been dropped to make way for Mitch Garbutt – who was back on the bench after three games out – in the only planned change to Leeds’ 17 from the win over St Helens two weeks ago.
Keinhorst came on – in the second-row – five minutes before the break and all Leeds’ substitutes were used in the first half.
Leeds’ victory guarantees a top-four finish and leaves them needing one win from their last three Super-8s fixtures to seal second place and a home play-off.The YEP’s Peter Smith
The changes paid off as Burrow scored Leeds’ opening try and had a good game, Garbutt also touched down and Keinhorst looked sharp despite his recent lack of game time.
Hull fielded 13 of their Wembley line-up.
Josh Griffin, Liam Watts, Mark Minichiello and Chris Green dropped out with Steve Michaels, Jansin Turgut, Jordan Thompson and Brad Fash coming in, the latter two on the bench.
Leeds went ahead through a bizarre try after seven minutes. Burrow kicked to Tom Briscoe, who seemed to knock-on.
The scrum-half followed-up to touch down – more in hope than expectation – and referee James Child asked video assistant Robert Hicks to check, though he indicated no try.
Replays showed the ball went backwards off Briscoe, with Fetuli Talanoa getting a hand to it, so the try was awarded and Kallum Watkins added the extras.
Briscoe must have expected a tough evening, but Hull did not target him as much as might have been expected after he made a fine take from an early kick near Leeds’ line.
Hull were level six minutes later, in the set from their first penalty. Albert Kelly’s pass sent Mahe Fonua into space and Michaels was in support to touch down. Marc Sneyd converted, but the lead lasted just moments.
Sika Manu knocked on in the set from the restart and Rhinos took advantage as Brad Singleton stormed over – through a high tackle by Jamie Shaul – from Stevie Ward’s pass for his first Super League try of the campaign.
Watkins made it 12-6, but Hull were awarded back-to-back penalties – against Ward and Matt Parcell – and levelled for the second time through Scott Taylor, who finished powerfully from a few metres out to make Sneyd’s conversion a formality.
That made it 12-12 after just 21 minutes. One thing more or less guaranteed when Child referees games involving Rhinos is a yellow card.
On 26 minutes, Ward had to go off for a concussion assessment following a tackle by Gareth Ellis and the Hull captain was sin-binned.
Ward returned just before the break. Hull’s Jansin Turgut came off second-best trying to put a big hit on the Leeds No 13 in the opening quarter, but also recovered enough to go back on.
Hull tried to slow things down, conceding four penalties in the 10 minutes they were without Ellis.
The pressure told on the half hour when Burrow ran across the line and Liam Sutcliffe was in the right place to take the pass and go over and Watkins maintained his 100 per cent record with the boot.
Carl Ablett lost possession inside Leeds’ half, Rhinos were penalised for holding down and – to run down the clock while Ellis was on the naughty step – Sneyd took the two.
Leeds’ fourth and final try of the half came seconds after Ellis’ return.
Keinhorst, Danny McGuire and Anthony Mullally all went close before Garbutt squeezed over at first-receiver from Parcell’s quick pass. Hicks confirmed Child’s decision of a try and Watkins made it 24-14 at the interval.
Hull got lucky with their third try, five minutes into the second half.
Parcell was penalised for having the ball thrown at him at marker and in the resulting set Danny Washbrook went over from a pass by Kelly, which was clearly forward.
Sneyd cut the gap to four, but almost immediately Leeds’ classy young full-back Jack Walker did brilliantly to work the ball to Cuthbertson and he galloped over from 20 metres out, for his 12th try of the season. Watkins converted and took two more after Manu was penalised in possession for lifting one of marker Jamie Jones-Buchanan’s legs.
At 32-20 Leeds looked to be taking command, but Hull rallied yet again when Josh Bowden went over from a pass by Sneyd, who also converted.
That came after Leeds were penalised following a bout of pushing and shoving, during which Burrow seemed to lead with his head on Jake Connor.
Walker missed with a penalty after a high shot by Thompson on Ward, but made no mistake soon afterwards – with 10 minutes left – when Hull were penalised for interference and placed on a team warning.
Sneyd’s restart bounced into touch through Sutcliffe’s legs and – after a penalty on the line – Taylor stretched over, but Child spotted a knock-on and Hicks agreed.
That was Hull’s last chance and Leeds finished with a try on the final play, Parcell touching down from McGuire’s kick, though Watkins failed with the conversion attempt.
The game was the first staged at Headingley since the closure of the South Stand, which is in the process of being demolished. That created a strange atmosphere, although the crowd of 13,219 was close to capacity.
The penalty count finished 11-8 in Rhinos’ favour (6-4 to Leeds in the first half).