Champions Leeds produced a superb rearguard display to end their seven-game losing run with an 8-0 win over Salford in an error-strewn Super League clash at a rain-soaked Headingley.
The Rhinos’ defence came in for criticism after a series of heavy defeats but their commitment and desire was there for all to see as they withstood everything Salford threw at them.
The Red Devils won the reverse fixture 14-10 in wet conditions back in April – only their second victory over the Rhinos in the Super League era – and the rain ensured a tight first half at Headingley which brought only Luke Briscoe’s sixth-minute unconverted try.
A Liam Sutcliffe penalty stretched the Rhinos’ lead to six points and he added another on the final hooter to the delight of the home crowd.
Brian McDermott’s men remain bottom despite securing their first win in almost two months and are almost certainties to face the likes of Leigh and London in the qualifiers, with third-bottom Salford likely to join them.
Leeds continued their trend of scoring the first try – they had done so in each of their last four defeats – as Briscoe took Kallum Watkins’ pat back from Danny McGuire’s kick to score his first try of the season.
The Rhinos’ problem in recent weeks has been building on those early leads and Salford looked set to join the likes of Castleford and Wigan in pegging Leeds back, only for Jake Bibby to make a meal of Michael Dobson’s grubber kick with the tryline at his mercy.
The Red Devils were enjoying plenty of possession in the Leeds half but Rob Burrow served them a warning when he broke the line and almost found a wide-open Ash Handley with a long pass.
Leeds were much improved in defence last time out against Catalans Dragons and their desire was not in question again as they continued to repel Salford attacks.
Imposing Australian winger Justin Carney was forced off after a huge hit by Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Brad Singleton while the Rhinos celebrated every Salford mistake with real enthusiasm.
The issue for Leeds was they were struggling to complete their sets in greasy conditions and there was a sense long periods of defending their own line would take their toll later in the game. But that was far from the minds of the Rhinos as Liam Sutcliffe found a hole in the Salford defensive line in a rare Leeds attack.
A Burrow knock-on meant the hosts were unable to take advantage of that good field position but they did at least hold a slender 4-0 lead at the break.
The rain fell heavier during the half-time interval and that meant only more errors in the early stages of the second period.
Salford continued to do most of the running but a crucial Handley interception got the Rhinos moving upfield and laid the groundwork for Sutcliffe’s penalty from out wide on the left.
Sutcliffe invited more Red Devils pressure when he dropped a high kick close to his own line but Leeds again dug deep to keep them out.
The Rhinos full-back then sliced a drop-goal attempt as Leeds tried to make it a two-score advantage before the hosts survived another spell of concerted Salford pressure.
The Red Devils continued to lay siege to the Leeds line but the Rhinos were not to be denied only their fourth win of the year, with Sutcliffe’s late penalty making absolutely sure.
After coming in for criticism in recent weeks, Leeds coach Brian McDermott was happy to celebrate a welcome two points.
“Yes it is (nice to have that winning feeling again),” said McDermott.
“It’s been a while since we last won. We’ve won because of hard work not because of a dubious refereeing decision or Salford being off.
“There’s a lot we can learn from that defensively and take into next week but I’m not sure there’s too much offensively.”
McDermott also hailed the Leeds support, saying: “The fans have been great and this win just allows them to sing a few winning songs which we as a team haven’t been able to provide the fans with just recently, so it’s good for them.”
Leeds Rhinos: Sutcliffe, L. Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Handley, McGuire, Burrow, Galloway, Walters, Garbutt, Jones-Buchanan, Ferres, Singleton. Subs: Falloon, Cuthbertson, Keinhorst, Achurch.
Salford: O’Brien, Carney, Sa’u, Jones, Bibby, Lui, Dobson, Kopczak, Tomkins, G. Griffin, Murdoch-Masila, Hauraki, Flanagan. Subs: Vidot, A. Walne, Joseph, Lannon.
Referee: Chris Kendall (RFL)
Attendance: 14, 462.