WITHOUT SKIPPER Kevin Sinfield, Leeds Rhinos managed to salvage a 24-24 draw at Huddersfield Giants last night in a game they looked on course to win comfortably.
Rhinos were the better side in the first half after Giants faded from a fast start.
The hosts came out firing and took an early lead, but Leeds kept their cool, worked their way back into the game and three tries in the second quarter gave them a deserved 14 points lead at the break.
Giants, thanks to a steady flow of penalties, dominated possession after the interval and scored three tries in seven minutes in the final quarter to turn the game on its head.
They looked to have won it, but Leeds somehow rallied and Liam Sutcliffe booted a penalty five minutes from time to seal the second successive league draw between the sides at John Smith’s Stadium.
It was a scrappy game, with too many errors and far too much whistle from referee Richard Silverwood.
The penalty count finished 10-8 in Giants’ favour (5-3 in the first half) after Leeds received three in the final five minutes.
Leeds struggled to cope once Giants, who were quite poor for the opening hour, got on the front foot.
Sinfield’s game management was badly missed in that second half.
He was left out after being on the bench for the previous two games and coach Brian McDermott obviously regards Sutcliffe as the better option to partner Danny McGuire in the halves.
Loose-forward is another option and he played there the last time he started, in the win at Salford, but McDermott prefers an extra prop in the No 13 role.
Sinfield’s omission was the headline, but Leeds were also without in-form forward Stevie Ward.
He was sidelined after suffering an ankle injury in last Friday’s game, so Jimmy Keinhorst came into the 17 for the first time this season and Carl Ablett switched to the second-row.
Jamie Jones-Buchanan, out for a month since suffering a hamstring tear in the win at Catalans, returned at loose-forward and fellow forward Brad Singleton dropped to the bench.
Keinhorst, who has been playing in the second-row for Hunslet, dropped Liam Sutcliffe’s pass close to Giants’ line with his second touch after just three minutes.
Giants were over for the opening try just seconds later after Danny Brough split the defence and Joe Wardle was in support to score.
Brough’s conversion extended his points-scoring streak against Leeds to 15 matches, dating back to his time at Wakefield.
Wardle also makes a habit of playing well against Rhinos and it was the fourth successive match between the sides when he has got on the scoresheet.
Brough got over the line on 10 minutes, but the try didn’t count. Ukuma Ta’ai was pulled down just short on the last, then stretched over, but was held up by Zak Hardaker, before offloading to the No 6, who touched down.
Silverwood said no try and video assistants Ben Thaler and Steve Ganson agreed, though the outcome was a turnover rather than penalty for a double movement.
Leeds did get a penalty on 14 minutes and they made it pay, Brett Delaney juggling Sutcliffe’s pass before going over for his first try of the season. Sutcliffe converted via a post.
Delaney had a good game and was missed when he went off with a head injury early in the second half.
Their second try, on 25, also came in a penalty set. Leeds tapped the second of back-to-back awards in front of the Giants’ posts and Paul Aiton picked out the No 12, who forced his way over.
Brad Singleton had been held up moments earlier, after Wardle had gone close for Giants, also following successive penalties.
Rhinos had an escape when Brough hurled a long pass towards Aaron Murphy, Watkins tried to intercept and missed and the pass sailed into touch. Though the scrum went to Giants, Leeds stood firm and Kyle Wood knocked on to relieve the pressure.
With 10 minutes of the half left, Leroy Cudjoe dropped McGuire’s bomb and then Hardaker was held up by Grix.
Aiton fed Jones-Buchanan, he found McGuire and the half-back’s long pass was taken by Joel Moon, who stepped through Giants’ right-side defence for a well-taken touchdown, which Sutcliffe converted, after the video referees had backed up Silverwood’s initial impression that there was no obstruction in the build-up.
Six minutes later Watkins dived over at the corner from Keinhorst’s pass, though Sutcliffe – who had also handled in the move – could not add the extras. Giants narrowed the gap after the hooter when Brough chipped ahead and went down in a heap, Delaney was penalised for taking him out and the Brough kicked his second goal to make it 22-8 at the break.
Leeds were forced into a big stint of goal line defence at the start of the second half as Giants received three straight penalties, forced a scrum and a drop-out.
Giants’ lack of ideas was evident, the pressure ending when Michael Lawrence was trapped in possession, but Rhinos did well to keep them out. Rhinos were starved of possession after the interval, but gave the ball away with a kick for touch, which went nowhere near, by McGuire from a tap re-start.
Jermaine McGillvary’s run lifted Giants and though it didn’t lead to a try Giants did get back in it with 20 left when Michael Lawrence crashed over, after successive penalties.
It looked as though Aiton might have prevented the ball being grounded, but Silverwood had no hesitation in awarding the touchdown and Brough added the extras.
On 65 Brough kicked to the corner, Ash Handley could only parry the ball into the air and Cudjoe touched down, though there was no goal.
And the hosts were in front just two minutes later, Wardle powering over for his second touchdown, between the posts, Brough adding the extras to make 24-22 after the video referees had checked for an obstruction.
Giants had even more pressure after that, but with five minutes left Silverwood awarded Rhinos successive penalties, for passing out of the tackle by Jack Hughes and then offside on the line.
Sutcliffe kept his nerve to land the kick, but was off-target with a drop goal with 109 seconds left. After that Brough also gfailed with two attempted drop kicks in frantic finale.
As the hooter sounded Leeds staged one last attack, the ball was moved wide to Burrow with a gap in front of him, but he slipped.
The decision would probably have been handed on and the touchdown ruled out for a knock-on in the build up.