Huddersfield Giants 14 Leeds Rhinos 13 - Boot on the other foot this time around thanks to Gaskell’s one-pointer
THE TABLES were turned on Leeds Rhinos in cruel fashion at John Smith’s Stadium as Lee Gaskell’s one-pointer, with the final kick of the game as the countdown clock ticked over to zero, broke their hearts.
Rhinos beat Huddersfield Giants by a point twice last season, but the boot was on the other foot this time, the full-back’s goal snatching a 14-13 win for the hosts.
It was tough on Leeds who - again without any play-makers - led twice and were probably the better team over the 80 minutes, though Giants did have three touchdowns ruled out.
The curse hanging over Rhinos’ pivots claimed another victim before the game when Kyle Eastmond was ruled out with a hamstring problem suffered in the final training session.
Liam Sutcliffe returned at stand-off and Kruise Leeming was shifted to scrum-half, becoming the seventh player to feature in the halves this season.
With a centre and hooker calling the shots, Leeds’ attack was toothless for the most part. The effort was outstanding, but they need to be smarter.
Some woeful attempts at drop goals cost Rhinos, who have now suffered five successive defeats, four of them in the league.
Huddersfield led by two points after a first half full of energy, but lacking clear opportunities.
Giants added a try and penalty in the first four minutes of the second period and, even at that relatively early stage, it looked like a winning margin given Rhinos’ lack of creativity.
To their credit though, having had a couple of lucky escapes, Leeds - with 11 players unavailable - suddenly found some inspiration, got back on level terms and looked the more energetic side, only for errors and panic plays to let them down. They went in front, had that cancelled out immediately, but were unfortunate not to at least go into sudden-death.
Sutcliffe, other than kicking at goal, and Matt Prior both had a good game for Leeds and their commitment, defensively and otherwise, could not be faulted.
Giants had a much stronger side out, but were poor and relied on kicks at the end of sets to create chances, when they’d have been better moving the ball through hands.
Rhinos had an escape after 11 minutes when Jack Broadbent let Jack Cogger’s kick bounce and Aidan Sezer hacked on and touched down, but it was ruled out for offside.
There hadn’t been a glimmer of a chance until then but, four minutes later, Giants were caught offside and, in the resulting set, Alex Mellor - off a terrific off-load from Sam Walters - and Matt Prior went close before Bodene Thompson powered over from acting-half Brad Dwyer’s pass.
That was the first time Rhinos had been in front since the Super League round-one win over Wakefield Trinity.
Walters was recalled in the second-row in place of Rhyse Martin who dropped to the bench.
Their respective form justified that selection, but it left Rhinos without a specialist kicker and Sutcliffe missed a conversion, from just to the right of the posts, which would have been easy pickings for Martin.
The lead lasted, untroubled, until the 33rd minute when Walters knocked on near Rhinos’ line, Giants were awarded a six-again and Sezer stepped through from close range for a try which he also converted. Giants’ opportunities in the first half came from kicks, but - for the first time - they put a move together right at the start of the second half as Gaskell broke into space from a pass by Sezer, who was in support to cruise over for his second touchdown.
The conversion attempt was off-target, but Sezer booted a penalty a couple of minutes later after Thompson obstructed Kenny Edwards as the Giants man chased a kick from the scrum-half.
It would have been curtains for Leeds on 52 minutes when Adam O’Brien nipped over from acting-half, but Edwards took Leeming out in back-play and the touchdown was disallowed. On 56 minutes Ricky Leutele powered past Leeming and Luke Yates should have scored from his pass, but dropped the ball over the line and - out of nothing - Leeds were back in it in the next set.
Sutcliffe dummied into space to make their first clean break of the game and Handley, in support, finished off.
Martin, having been introduced off the bench, landed the difficult conversion and then, moments later, levelled the scores with a long-range penalty.
Sutcliffe missed with a drop goal attempt 15 minutes from time and then couldn’t take the pass when set up for another go moments later.
Giants had their third touchdown disallowed in the 72nd minute when Josh Jones went over after Handley could not take Gaskell’s kick, but it was ruled out for offside. Sutcliffe and Sezer both missed with attempted one-pointers before the former finally managed to land one, off the crossbar, only for Giants to get the ball back from the short restart and level through a kick by their No 7.
A ball steal by Prior then gave Rhinos a chance, but - yet again - Sutcliffe couldn’t hit the target and Giants finally sealed it when Gaskell handed his one-pointer as the hooter sounded.
That came after Rhinos were pulled up for a forward pass deep in Giants’ territory and the hosts were piggy-backed up-field by what looked a harsh penalty - for a ball steal - before receiving a six-again.
The 14 penalties were shared. Giants received four six-agains, to Leeds’ two.
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