IT WASN’T exactly a breeze, but Leeds Rhinos were good value for their 20th successive away win over Salford Red Devils.
A galeforce wind, into Leeds’ faces in the first half, had a big bearing on an entertaining tussle between the Super League leaders and an improving Salford side, who began the round in third spot in the table before this 28-18 defeat.
Leeds did much of the hard work in the opening period, taking a 16-12 lead into the break. Salford never went away, but Rhinos had enough of a gap to never look in serious danger, though it was a contest throughout.
It was a scrappy game, but both teams deserve credit for providing good entertainment in awful conditions, driving rain adding to the mix in the second half.
To illustrate the strength of the wind, Kevin Sinfield’s first conversion – into the gale – went between the posts and blew back out again.
Later in the first half play had to be halted when an advertising board was lifted on to the middle of the field.
Rhinos, who won 28-18, handled the conditions the better and their half-time lead meant they didn’t need to chase the game when the elements were against them.
There was an outstanding effort from veteran prop Jamie Peacock, who returned after being rested for the Easter Monday win over Wakefield Wildcats.
He scored two of the three first-half tries and played 72 minutes straight before being pulled off.
Also impressive, again, was hard-working second-rower Stevie Ward, and Zak Hardaker had a big game after shifting to full-back in the second half.
He had started on the left-flank as Rhinos were without both first-choice wingers, Ryan Hall having joined Tom Briscoe on the injury list with a fractured wrist.
Ash Handley made his fifth consecutive appearance on the right – scoring a try and coping well in the difficult conditions – and Ashton Golding was named on the left for only his third senior game, though he actually lined up at full-back.
Handley was alongside Carl Ablett, who switched into the centre after Kallum Watkins was ruled out due to illness. Danny McGuire started at stand-off – running the game well – Peacock returned in the front-row and Mitch Achurch and Ward were the starting second-rowers, so Liam Sutcliffe and Adam Cuthbertson and Brett Delaney, who had a big impact in the second half, dropped to the bench.
Salford were without Rangi Chase and Weller Hauraki due to suspension, plus Josh Griffin, Tommy Lee and Corey Paterson because of injury.
They gave it a good go, particularly defensively, but Leeds handled the difficult conditions better and their ability to respond to the home team’s tries was crucial.
They went 12-6 up briefly in the first half and could have got a grip of the game at that stage, but Leeds replied immediately.
Rhinos had the first chance, on 16 minutes, when Ben Jones-Bishop – one of four ex-Leeds men in the home side – spilled Harrison Hansen’s pass.
McGuire picked up with a clear run to the line, but Theo Fages, who is a fine talent, got back to make the tackle and the hosts then survived back-to-back penalties.
A knock-on in their own 20 and another couple of penalties kept Salford under pressure and they eventually cracked when Peacock got over from Burrow’s pass, after Burrow, Achurch and Ward had all gone close.
That good work was undone almost immediately as Leeds conceded back-to-back tries. Just three minutes after Peacock crossed, Cuthbertson offloaded straight to Fages. Leeds were penalised and following that Lama Tasi crashed over from Fages offload and Dobson’s kick levelled the scores.
Sinfield’s re-start went out on the full and in the set from the penalty Fages teed-up Evalds and he burst past Joel Moon for a try which was improved by Dobson.
This time McGuire took the re-start, high into the wind. It blew back and was collected by Hardaker, then Rhinos received a penalty and at the end of the set Paul Aiton kicked through and Peacock was first to the ball, for his second try. Sinfield’s conversion made it 12-12.
Leeds had an escape when Dobson put up a high kick which bounced away from Golding and was picked up by Scott Taylor and he went over, but referee Matt Thomason had already called him back for offside.
Leeds then got a fortunate put-in at a scrum in Salford territory and following that, Hardaker hacked ahead, the ball went off Ward and stopped in-goal and Handley reacted quickly to touch down – though the officials missed a huge forward pass earlier in the set.
That was on the final play of the half and Leeds increased their advantage six minutes after the break, Burrow – now playing hooker – beginning and finishing the move.
Peacock fed McGuire, who slipped the ball to Moon, he dipped a shoulder, broke into space and did well to find the supporting Burrow, whose pace took him over despite the attentions of Greg Johnson.
Moon was jeered by the Salford fans every time he touched the ball against his former club, not that it seemed to affect him. Other than the missed tackle, he had a strong game.
Salford’s only try of the second half came on 58 minutes. Dobson put up a bomb, Golding hesitated and Evalds followed up to snatch the ball and plunge over, the No 7 landing his third conversion to cut the gap back to four points.
At the end of the next set Dobson tried a similar kick, but this time Hardaker – now at full-back, with Golding on the wing – gathered and made 40 metres on the return.
Cuthbertson’s terrific offload then put Burrow into a gap. Evalds made a superb tackle, but Hardaker came into acting-half, spotted a hole, with the full-back out of position, stepped past Tasi and zipped through for a very clever try, which Sinfield improved.
Salford debutant Ryan Lannon made a try-saving ankle tap on Delaney, Ward was hauled down just short, then McGuire got over, but was held up.
With seven minutes left McGuire was held up over the line by Sa’u following a brilliant run from a scrum base.
Any of those chances could have sealed it, but Salford didn’t get an opportunity to threaten Leeds’ 10-point lead.
The penalty count finished 9-8 in Salford’s favour (7-3 to Leeds in the first half).