Leeds Rhinos 8 Hull FC 31: Hosts humbled at Headingley
Rhinos trailed 18-0 after an abject first half performance and the second period wasn’t any better, Hull adding another two tries and going 31 points up before Leeds pulled a couple of tries back in the final five minutes.
Even so, it’s hard to remember many worse 80 minutes for Leeds in a Super League game at Headingley and the fact they weren’t nilled was about the only positive.
Tom Briscoe - who also made a couple of good tackles in the first half - scored with five minutes left from a long pass by Aidan Sezer and Liam Sutcliffe got their other, off Jack Walker’s pass.
Ash Handley, Leeds’ captain on the day, did brilliantly to run down Adam Swift after he had intercepted from Morgan Gannon close to Hull’s line in the second half and other than that, it will be a short highlights reel.
Rhinos have won only one of their opening five matches, three of their four defeats coming at Headingley.
They were booed off the field at half-time and those frustrated fans won’t be particularly cheered by the thought of St Helens being the next visitors in two weeks’ time.
The hosts created a couple of chances in the opening 10 minutes, but Hull were comfortably the better team after that and full value for an 18-0 lead half-time which even their most optimistic supporter wouldn’t have envisioned when the game kicked off.
Rhinos had players missing, including Harry Newman, Kruise Leeming and Cameron Smith from the win last week, but Hull were without both their first-choice half-backs and also had first-choice players unavailable in the three-quarters and pack.
They were also on a short turnaround from a poor performance in defeat at Castleford Tigers last Sunday, while Rhinos should have been full of confidence following their first win of the campaign, but it didn’t look that way.
Hull’s makeshift half-back pairing of Joe Lovodua and Ben McNamara were far more inventive, the pack made big yards, while Leeds had little go-forward and Connor was on a different level to anyone in the Rhinos’ ranks - or Hull’s, to be fair.
Of Rhinos’ three first-half chances, two came to naught because of a forward pass from left-centre to wing. Hull were much more clinical.
When Connor is in this sort of mood, he’s very difficult to stop and Leeds weren’t up to the task as he scored two and set up one of Hull’s three first half tries.
It’s just not happening for Leeds’ halves, Blake Austin and Sezer and nobody else had much joy either, though Jack Walker had a good go.
Rhinos made a relatively positive start. Adam Swift came to Hull’s rescue when Leeds created the first chance, after five minutes, tackling Rhinos’ big wing David Fusitu’a into touch just short of the line.
Leeds wasted another chance soon afterwards, on the other flank, when Liam Sutcliffe’s pass which sent Handley over was forward - a pattern repeated later in the half, though the winger was pulled back before he got to the touchline the second time.
In between those opportunities, Hull were reduced to 12 men with Kane Evans, making his first start, sin-binned for a high tackle on Walker, who had just made an outstanding diving catch from a towering kick.
Numerical parity was restored within three minutes though, when Matt Prior followed the Hull man to the naughty step, for a high shot on Swift who had to leave the field for a head injury assessment, though he returned later in the first half.
Hull dominated after Prior’s temporary departure. Some quick thinking by Sutcliffe saved Leeds when Connor’s kick bounced between Handley’s arms to Mitieli Vulikijapani, behind Rhinos’ line, but the centre palmed the ball dead before the Fijian could touch down.
After 19 minutes, just before Prior returned, Briscoe made a fine tackle to stop Josh Griffin.
On the next play, the full-back dummied to kick and then shimmied his way to the line for the opening try, which McNamara converted.
That had been coming and Hull scored again 10 minutes before the interval. Initially, Briscoe produced another stunning tackle to keep Griffin out, but - again on the next play - Hull shifted the ball to the other flank and Swift went over from Connor’s long pass.
McNamara’s second goal, off the touchline, made it 12-0 and he converted again five minutes later after the defence held off Connor and he glided over for his score.
Rhinos came out like they’d been given a rocket at half-time and thought they had got points on the board after three minutes.
Referee Liam Moore signalled a try when Fusitu’a dived over one-handed from Walker’s pass as Leeds moved the ball nicely across the line, but video assistant Ben Thaler disagreed.
A repeat set and penalty followed and rather than Hull being just 12 points ahead, their lead was increased to 22 when Lovodua sent Andre Savelio charging past a poor attempted tackle by Sezer.
McNamara’s kick was off target, but he booted a penalty after 54 minutes. With 15 left, Jordan Johnstone kicked behind Rhinos’ line and Lovodua was first to it to record a deserved try.
That was converted and Connor landed a drop goal before the late consolation tries by Briscoe and Sutrcliffe.
The penalty count finished six-five in Rhinos’ favour (three-two to Leeds in the first half).
Fusitu’a and Mikolaj Oledzki both went off for a head injury assessment in the second half.
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