Another painful blow was struck to Leeds Rhinos’ Betfred Super League survival hopes and it was largely self-inflicted.
Leeds could have beaten third-placed Hull. From nowhere they got into a winning position with 13 minutes left, but blew it.
With London Broncos beating St Helens, Leeds’ 26-24 defeat means once again only points difference separates Rhinos from the foot of the table and – a fortnight after looking to be clawing their way to safety – they are back in the mire.
Rhinos recovered from 12-0 and 20-6 behind to lead by four late on, but couldn’t see the game out.
Having gone ahead – and with the momentum firmly in their favour – Leeds just needed to play it clever and complete some sets, but by the next time they had possession they were behind again and the game had changed.
Other than in the opening 20 when Hull were very good, they had enough pressure, but struggled to turn good field position into points and literally handed Hull a way back when the visitors looked out on their feet.
Rhinos defended relatively well, but their ball control wasn’t good enough. The writing was on the wall when Rhinos couldn’t complete either of their first two sets and time and again they either let Hull off the hook at one end or put themselves under pressure at the other by not doing the basics right.
If they are going to get out of this mess they need to ask more questions of the opposition defence. They scored some good tries, but those were out of the blue and the generally ponderous and predictable nature of their attack was highlighted a couple of minutes before half-time when they received a penalty inside Hull’s territory.
Cuthbertson, who is playing well and added some impetus off the bench, almost got over, but other than that Leeds passed the ball aimlessly across the line and on the last, Rhyse Martin was tackled trying to go from acting-half.
It is to their credit that Leeds, after going further behind soon after half-time, found the spirit to fight their way back into the game, but they need to add smarts and better control to that.
The loss continued the symmetry of results under interim-boss Richard Agar which – in the 10 games since he took charge in May – has seen two defeats followed by two wins.
They managed to defend back-to-back sets after Ava Seumanufagai’s early knock-on, but then Konrad Hurrell turned the ball over inside Rhinos’ half and Sika Manu crossed from Jake Connor’s pass.
Marc Sneyd’s conversion made it 6-0 after five minutes When Leeds finally did complete a set, Rob Lui put up a bomb at the end of it which Jamie Shaul dropped, but Shaun Lunt knocked on at acting-half a couple of plays after the scrum.
Liam Sutcliffe was named in the halves alongside Lui, due to Richie Myler’s one game ban, though he was in the second-row for the most part with Cameron Smith playing as a pivot.
For a split second it looked like Sutcliffe might be en-route to an equalising try, but Tom Briscoe’s pass which had sent him into open space was ruled forward.
From the scrum Hull got over the line a second time, but Ratu Naulago’s spectacular dive was in vain as touch judge Clint Sharrad raised his flag for a foot on the line in Ash Handley’s terrific last-ditch tackle.
On 20 minutes Lui dabbed a kick behind Hull’s line and referee Marcus Griffiths took a tumble in a collision with a Leeds player. He then awarded a Hull a penalty for offside and they scored from it, Bureta Faraimo making a remarkable take on the last from a kick by Sneyd, who also added the extras.
Faraimo got above Briscoe to catch the ball, but came down almost vertically, almost head first, so did well to hang on.
Soon afterwards Rhinos received back-to-back penalties, but Lunt – who started, with Brad Dwyer on the bench – spilled the ball in Mickey Paea’s pass trying to nip over from acting-half.
Rhinos finally managed to make an opportunity count on the half hour. They were fortunate to get the feed at a scrum inside Hull’s half – after some frantic passing by the hosts – and Hurrell dived over at the corner from Smith’s smart pass. Martin landed his first Leeds goal from the touchline.
Moments later Leeds put another move together when a brilliant offload from Adam Cuthbertson sent Lunt clear with Jack Walker in support, but he could not take the pass.
That was unfortunate, but the only time Leeds attacked from deep in the opening period.
It was a harem-scarem period of rugby with both teams playing like they were four points down with two minutes to go. In the final seconds of the half Sneyd tried a drop goal which didn’t get off the ground, but rebounded to him allowing him to chip ahead, regather and pass to his right where it was hacked on by Leeds, but a knock-on on half-way ended the chance.
Hull showed how it should be done four minutes into the second half when Mark Minichiello sent Josh Griffin tearing down the left flank and he turned the ball inside for Shaul to score a try which Sneyd converted, via a post.
The number seven booted a long-range penalty soon afterwards to open a two-score gap, but that was reduced with 25 minutes left when Brett Ferres and Lui worked the ball to Walker and Briscoe finished well from his pass. Martin again improved the score, from the opposite side of the field to his first goal.
That gave Leeds a sniff and they were right back in it on 62 minutes with a 12-point turnaround. Hull looked certain to score as they moved the ball right, but Carlos Tuimavave’s pass – aimed at Naulago who would have had a walk in – was intercepted by Handley who juggled, held on and then hit the afterburners to race the full length.
Martin’s third conversion made it a two-point ball game and Leeds were in front five minutes later.
Martin got them on the front foot from Lui’s pass, then Dwyer switched play with a long ball to Newman who did well to draw the cover and then find Briscoe who finished off.
Martin booted another superb goal and if Leeds could reproduce that sort of form for longer they’ve be in a healthy situation, but Leeds’ ability to mess things up is second to none.
With the game theirs, Nathaniel Peteru dropped the restart to concede a drop out, a penalty kept the pressure on and following that, Connor’s long pass was deflected by Hurrell to Naulogo and he touched down for a try which Sneyd converted off the touchline to win it.
There were positives: Leeds’ defended well for spells, Martin’s goal kicking was outstanding and he played well generally and both Walker and Cuthbertson could hold their head up.But at this stage all that matters is winning the game and Leeds, yet again, look like a team who have forgotten how to do that.
The penalty count was five-three in Leeds’ favour at half-time and finished seven-six to Hull.