FIFTEEN-MAN Leeds Rhinos turned in sensational effort to secure second spot at the end of the regular season with a 10-7 win over Hull at Headingley last night.
After losing two key men early on and trailing 7-0 at the break, Rhinos’ gutsy performance in the second half turned the game on its head.
Both teams were on the top of their game defensively, but ball control was dire and it was a stop-start affair.
That said, a frantic second half made it an entertaining encounter which was in the balance until the very final second.
It looked like Hull would snatch it at the death when Mahe Fonua broke down the right wing, but Jimmy Keinhorst saved the day by tackling him into touch.
Leeds put in a huge effort in difficult circumstances. Their forwards were outstanding, with Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Mitch Garbutt both working tirelessly, well supported by Adam Cuthbertson and Brad Singleton
Leeds lost Stevie Ward and Keith Galloway inside the opening 12 minutes, by which stage they already trailed 6-0.
Hull invited them to attack their line with a host of errors, but Leeds lacked a cutting edge and could not make the most of all their possession.
The visitors rarely got into Rhinos’ 20, but added a drop goal with the last kick of the half to go two scorers clear.
There wasn’t much evidence they would get back into the game, but the hosts were revived by Ryan Hall’s 250th career try – his 218th for Leeds – and a try by young star Jack Walker edged them ahead late in the third quarter.
Keinhorst had a strong game on his return from a 15-match layoff caused by a hand injury, coming straight in at centre in place of concussion victim Kallum Watkins.
Ashton Golding returned at full-back following his hamstring problem so Walker dropped the the bench, though not for long. Ward – playing in the right-centre – took a bang to the head tackling Carlos Tuimavave, wobbled around for a while and then went off for a concussion check.
Walker came on at full-back and Golding moved into the wing.
At the same time Leeds lost in-form prop Galloway, who dropped to one knee – with nobody near him – and then hobbled off with an injury which was later confirmed as a snapped Achilles.
The unfortunate Galloway missed the final game of last season and the first nine games this year due to a ruptured Achilles on his other leg.
Josh Walters – a substitute at Salford last Sunday – was left out. Jordan Baldwinson and Jack Ormondroyd, who warmed up as 18th man, were the unused members of the initial squad and are set to feature for Featherstone Rovers against Halifax tomorrow.
Watkins hopes to be available for next Friday’s final game of the regular season, at Wigan Warriors.
Rob Burrow (shoulder) and Brett Ferres (knee) are also getting close to a return and knee injury victim Brett Delaney is expected to be available during the Super-8s.
The only try of the first half came after just seven minutes. Jones-Buchanan knocked on and at the end of the resulting set Marc Sneyd’s kick to the corner was knocked into touch by Hall.
Galloway and Adam Cuthbertson held Sika Manu up over the line, but after Danny Houghton had gone close Scott Taylor dummied over from acting-half for a soft try which Sneyd improved.
Rhinos did most of the pressing, aided by some penalties and Hull’s errors, but were limited to just a handful of opportunities.
Matt Parcell twice got over the Hull line in the first quarter, but knocked-on both times under pressure from some terrific scrambling defence.
Garbutt was pulled down just short after a powerful run and at the end of the half Joel Moon’s pass went behind Tom Briscoe, who would have scored if it had been on target and Golding picked up, but ran into a wall of defenders on the line; then a strong tackle by Josh Griffin jarred the ball out of Keinhorst’s grasp. Hull got a penalty 40 metres from their line with eight seconds left on the clock, kicked into Leeds’ half and Sneyd landed a drop goal after the hooter.
It almost got worse for Leeds two minutes into the second period when Sneyd’s cross kick was well taken by Fetuli Talanoa, but he was held up over the line.
Just four minutes later Leeds got points on the board, in spectacular fashion. A penalty on the last gave them a platform and after Anthony Mullally had gone close, Jones-Buchanan, Danny McGuire, Moon and Carl Ablett worked the ball left and Hall touched down acrobatically at the corner, though to far out for Golding to convert.
Soon afterwards, Jamie Shaul allowed McGuire’s kick to bounce, Golding picked up and set off for the corner, but he was slid into touch by Talanoa just short of the line.
Talanoa dropped Sneyd’s pass with the line bagging and, aided by a penalty, Leeds scored on the counter, Walker touching down from Moon’s clever chip over the defence.
It was the 17-year-old’s second try in as many Super League games and convincing him to stay at the club should be a priority for Rhinos’ management. He has been offered a first team deal, but is being chased by Warrington Wolves. Walker wants to play full-back, but Rhinos have Golding on a long-term contract. Lilley, who had been on the field a matter of seconds, added the extras from in front to make it 10-7.
A stunning tackle by Shaul kept a rampaging Singleton out at the start of the final quarter. With 10 minutes left Hull thought they had gone back in front when Griffin dived over from Mahe Fonua’s pass, but Hall had barged him into touch and the flag went up. Two minutes later Fonua crashed over from Griffin’s pass. Referee Robert Hicks seemed set to give it, but spoke to the same touch judge and his in-goal assistant and the touchdown was ruled out for a knock-on.
Three minutes from time Walker pounced on a knock-on near Leeds’ line and dashed clear, but Liam Watts tackled him into touch.
The penalty count finished 6-5 in Rhinos’ favour (4-3 to Leeds in the first half).
Ablett was placed on report in the second half and Hall – who had a massive game – went off in the final six minutes for treatment to a nasty head wound.