A BIG EFFORT from under-strength Leeds Rhinos came to nothing as they were beaten 28-20 at Huddersfield Giants last night.
Giants scored five tries to three, but the game was in the balance until the final moments and Leeds led as late as the 73rd minute,
This 10th defeat from 13 Super League games pushes them closer to the middle-eights and a relegation battle.
They dropped below Huddersfield into 11th place and will be bottom if Salford beat Hull KR today, but could not have given any more.
Mitch Garbutt, Rob Burrow and Jimmy Keinhorst, in particular, had big games and Leeds’ defensive effort was probably their best of the season. They conceded an early try, barely touched the ball in the first 10 minutes and had a couple of escapes, but scrambled really well.
At the other end Rhinos made a series of early errors, but scored a good try and looked more threatening after that, without being able to add anything more than a penalty goal.
The start of the second half was similar, with Leeds hitting back after an early Giants try. The lead changed hands twice more, but Giants scored the decisive try five minutes from time to leave Leeds with nothing to show from a huge effort.
Leeds’ scratch side played much better than might have been expected when the teams were announced.
Luke Briscoe came in on the wing for Leeds for one of the more unexpected appearances in the club’s history.
He made three Super League appearances for Leeds in 2014, but joined Hunslet last year, only to have his campaign ended by a serious injury.
Rhinos looked after him through his knee reconstruction surgery and rehabilitation and he has re-signed on a deal until the end of the season. Cameron Smith, aged 17, also came into the squad, among the substitutes. He came on after 59 minutes in the second-row and became the sixth youngest player to appear for Leeds in the Super League era.
Credit to coach Brian McDermott for having faith in him in a tight game.
Brett Ferres returned against his former club after missing five games with a calf tear and Josh Walters was back from injury on the bench.
Despite Leeds including two players from outside their senior squad, there was no place for last year’s Championship young player of the year Jordan Baldwinson, who must wonder what it will take for him to be given a real opportunity.
Zak Hardaker (concussion), Beau Falloon (back), Carl Ablett (ankle) and Brett Delaney (hamstring) dropped out from the team beaten by St Helens last week.
They were among 10 players on the casualty list, the others being Tom Briscoe, Joel Moon, Ryan Hall, Danny McGuire, Adam Cuthbertson and Stevie Ward. Giants went ahead four times, the first after five minutes. Briscoe could not take Kallum Watkins’ offload, Rhinos then conceded a penalty and, almost inevitably, a try followed as Ukuma Ta’ai, at first receiver, picked out Jordan Lilley and went straight over the top of the smallest man on the field.
The next six minutes produced some of the best defence Rhinos have produced all season.
Ashton Golding, playing at full-back, did well to take a towering bomb from Brough, but was trapped in goal. Giants got two repeat sets and a couple of penalties, but Leeds kept them out.
On the final tackle Brough grubbered through and Josh Johnson claimed to have touched down, but referee Robert Hicks said no and video official Richard Silverwood agreed.
Lilley, who was in the right place at the right time on several occasions, intercepted a Brough pass a few metres out to prevent a try, but Leeds lost possession the first four times they got in Giants’ half.
Rhinos had their second video referee let-off on 20 minutes.
Golding again failed to take Brough’s kick and the ball went to Jermaine McGillvary, who crossed at the corner.
Hicks – who was heading to Australia today to referee a Pacific Island Test – immediately said no try and the replay showed Joe Wardle had been offside from the kick.
After 25 minutes Rhinos finally managed to get to the last tackle in the opposition’s half, Brough spilling Lilley’s kick behind the line.
They repeated the feat from the drop out, this time Liam Sutcliffe dabbing through a clever kick which Lilley read to take and crash over for a try which he also improved.
Leeds, suddenly playing with confidence, forced a couple of repeat sets after that and increased their lead with a penalty goal following interference on Burrow in front of the posts.
That was sensible play by Rhinos, who have squandered a number of points this year by not taking the two when offered to them.
Keeping the pressure on is fair enough when your attack is at full-strength and firing, but in the current circumstances kicking for goal is a better option in close games. Leeds should have scored again in the next set, when Sutcliffe dummied into pace. Kallum Watkins, on his outside, only needed to take the pass to score, but the ball went the other way to Lilley, who was tackled.
Walters and Golding did brilliantly well to hold Ryan Hinchcliffe up over the line five minutes before the interval, but the defence cracked at the start of the second period.
A forward pass by Burrow turned over possession and Gene Ormsby scored in the corner from his centre Aaron Murphy’s pass after good handling across the line by Leroy Cudjoe, Brough and Ta’ai.
Moments later Rhinos were caught offside in front of their own sticks, but Giants lost the ball and Lilley swept it up and broke into the home half.
He didn’t have the pace to go all the way, but Leeds made the chance count as Walters crashed over from Burrow’s flat pass out of acting half and Lilley added the extras.
Stunning tackles by Burrow on McGillvary and Keinhorst on Kyle Wood kept Giants out and Keinhorst would have extended the lead if he had been able to touch down Burrow’s grubber.
Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Walters combined to hold Wood up when he looked likely to score, but Giants went ahead for the third time on 61.
It was a brilliant try, finished superbly by McGillvary after Huddersfield kept the ball alive in dazzling fashion. Brough’s conversion made it 16-14.
With 12 minutes left Leeds responded again, Burrow going over from acting-half and Lilley adding the extras.
But Leeds’ inability to defend penalty sets bit them again with seven to go when Murphy ran across field and opened space for Jake Connor to go over to level the scores, Brough’s conversion sealing it.
Ta’ai had a touchdown ruled out by the video referee three minutes from time, but Giants got the ball back and Eorl Crabtree scored in the resulting set, Brough’s goal sealing it.
The penalty count finished 8-7 to Huddersfield (6-5 to Leeds in the first half).