LEEDS RHINOS survived early and late scares to get off the mark in Betfred Super League with a 17-14 win at promoted Leigh Centurions.
After losing on kicks to St Helens in round one, the boot was again the difference as the six tries were shared.
Leeds went 8-0 behind in as many minutes, but worked their way back into the game and dominated most of the opening period, though they had to settle for a seven-point lead at the interval.
Leigh threw everything at the visitors after the break, but Rhinos extended their lead by two and looked reasonably comfortable until Centurion’s third try revived them with 12 minutes left.
That set up a frantic finale Leeds were fortunate to survive. Leigh had a claimed try ruled out after that by the referee and video official and in the final moments miraculous tackles by Ryan Hall and Jimmy Keinhorst and then Tom Briscoe saved Leeds’ night.
Rhinos played well in patches, with Ashton Golding, Keinhorst and Carl Ablett having big games, but the way they failed to ram home their advantage and then almost let the match slip was a concern.
A positive was the return from injury of captain Danny McGuire. He came off the bench after 33 minutes to replace Matt Parcell. He went into the halves alongside Liam Sutcliffe and Rob Burrow moved to hooker. Parcell took over from Burrow early in the second half.
A setback before the game gave Rhinos some sort of excuse for their poor start, Mitch Garbutt – who had travelled with the team – having to drop out after falling ill.
That forced a late reshuffle. Anthony Mullally was due to be on the bench, but started at prop and Josh Walters – the nominated 18th man, came in among the substitutes.
Walters was due to play on dual-registration for Featherstone Rovers at Batley Bulldogs tomorrow, along with club-mates Ash Handley and Jordan Baldwinson.
Baldwinson was unlucky to lose his place in Leeds’ 17 after the briefest of stints off the bench in round one.
He swapped teams – and places – with Jack Ormondroyd, who made his Rhinos and Super League debut when he came on after 44 minutes.
With Joel Moon missing out due to concussion, Keinhorst switched from the bench into the centres.
Stevie Ward, a substitute last week, started and Adam Cuthbertson was among the replacements, though he wasn’t on the sidelines for long.
Rhinos must have known Leigh – who made a series of changes to the side which lost at Castleford a week earlier – would come out all guns blazing, but they were still caught cold as the hosts ran in two tries in the opening eight minutes.
Matty Dawson scored the first after five minutes, getting over at the corner from a fine pass by Josh Drinkwater, who was in the London Broncos team which infamously beat Leeds in 2014.
Rhinos were penalised for offside in the set from the restart and that led to another touchdown, Mitch Brown going over from an offload by Ben Reynolds, whose first conversion hit a post and second was well off-target.
Rhinos boss Brian McDermott reacted by bringing Cuthbertson off the bench in place of Mullally and the Aussie made an instant impact, forcing his way over from acting-half Parcell’s pass close to the line within two minutes of joining the action.
Sutcliffe added the extras and in the next set Parcell’s break – exactly what he was brought over from Manly to do – split the defence and Ablett was in support to send Hall over, though there was no conversion this time. The game settled down after that, with Leigh making less ground in attack, though their final tackle options still looked dangerous.
Keinhorst went close from a Hall tip on after Burrow’s kick and then following some nice play across the line and a pass by Ablett, then the No 7 was unlucky not to win a penalty in front of the sticks after grubbering through and being taken out.
As tired as they looked going forward, Leigh’s defence near their own line was strong and Leeds couldn’t find another way through until the 33rd minutes.
Brown’s ankle tap denied Cuthbertson and on the next play Keinhorst stretched over, the ball came backwards and play continued for several more passes before the move broke down.
Referee Jack Smith then went back to the Keinhorst incident and handed it on to his video assistant Ben Thaler as a no try, but replays proved the German international had got the ball down.
In the next set Hall burst clear with Burrow in support, but the acting-captain could not take the high pass with the line – and possibly the game – begging.
They were almost punished when Sam Hopkins, Jamie Acton and Drinkwater created an opening for Harrison Hansen, but the Leeds defence scrambled to pull him down.
In the final three minutes of the half a penalty for a high tackle by Cuthbertson carried Leigh upfield, but Danny Tickle knocked-on. Kallum Watkins and Tom Briscoe couldn’t get to Sutcliffe’s kick on the free-play, but Leeds received a penalty at the scrum and as the hooter sounded the ball was played back to Sutcliffe, who struck a tremendous 40-metre drop goal to make it 15-8.
Thaler had to confirm Dawson had not got the ball down from Drinkwater’s kick at the start of the second half.
Leigh were reduced to 12 players on 55 minutes when Jamie Acton prevented Briscoe taking a quick tap and five later Sutcliffe kicked a penalty, after Leeds had earlier turned down a similar opportunity.
Ben Crooks, on loan from Castleford, forced his way over in the 68th minute and Reynolds’ conversion cut Leeds’ advantage to 17-14.
Soon afterwards Crooks and Hall competed for Drinkwater’s kick, Smith asked for Thaler’s view and he called a hand-over.
In the final five minutes Keinhorst and Hall pulled down Atelea Vea when he looked a certain scorer and Briscoe did the same to Dawson.
The penalty count finished 9-6 in Leeds’ favour (4-4 in the first half).
Meanwhile, Rhinos’ Cameron Smith and Mikolaj Oledzki have been named in the national performance programme under-18s squad, along with Callum McLelland and and Calum Turner of Castleford Tigers.
Rhinos’ Thomas Holroyd is in the under-16s group, as are Castleford’s Lewis Peachey and Ritchie Westwood.
Holroyd is in the Rhinos under-16s scholarship side to face Newcastle Thunder at Stanningley today (12.30pm).