SPEEDSTER TOM Briscoe’s long-range try against his former club helped Leeds Rhinos to a 36-22 win over Hull.
Rhinos will head into next week’s ladbrokes Challenge Cup final against Hull KR on a run of six straight victories and with a four-point lead on the First Utility Super-8s table.
Rhinos don’t have a great record in games the week before Wembley.
In this run of five finals in six years, Leeds have gone to Wembley on the back of a defeat three times now.
It’s usually a strange game – for example last year’s collapse at London Broncos – but this was genuinely weird, a dull, error-ridden first half being followed by a free-scoring second, when eight tries were rattled up.
The result was never going to have much bearing on next Saturday’s final, but Leeds – who have beaten Hull four times this season – will head to London full of confidence with no obvious new injuries.
Four players dropped out from the team which beat Wigan Warriors seven days earlier.
Centres Kallum Watkins and Joel Moon, scrum-half Danny McGuire and forward Adam Cuthbertson weren’t risked.
That meant a recall for Rhinos’ Ash Handley on the right-wing with Briscoe switching into the centres against his former club.
Carl Ablett was moved into the other centre spot from the pack and Rob Burrow got a start at scrum-half.
Robbie Ward came in for only his third appearance of the season, at hooker, Jimmy Keinhorst started in the second-row and Josh Walters was recalled – for his first start of the year – at loose-forward.
Jamie Peacock dropped to the bench and the substitutes also included full-back Ashton Golding, making his third senior appearance of the year less than a week after returning from a long-term back injury in the under-19s.
Robbie Ward went off for a spell inside the first quarter and was replaced by Peacock. For a while, when scrums formed, Mitch Gabutt went in alongside Peacock and Brad Singleton, giving Leeds what must be a contender for the biggest front-row ever.
Hull, playing with the confidence gained from last week’s win at St Helens and the freedom of knowing they aren’t seriously in the hunt for the play-offs, made a fast start and were on top in the opening quarter, despite going behind briefly early on.
Leeds got more into the game after that, but the quality was low and try scoring chances were at a premium, so 6-6 was a fair half-time score.
The fact the locals thought it was a good half is an indication of the way things have gone for Hull this year.
The second half was madness, a total contrast to the first as both sides forgot about any sort of control or defence.
Twice Hull hit back from eight points down, but there was no late drama after Briscoe’s long-range try, with eight minutes left.
Handley was involved at both ends in the opening moments. He made a try-saving tackle in the first set of the game, forcing Steve Michaels into touch by the flag after the winger looked a certain scorer following Jack Logan’s break.
Then on six minutes he gave the ball to Hardaker close to Rhinos’ line and the full-back waved clear before passing to Burrow in support.
He was dragged down, but the defence was caught out and Walters put Handley over for the opening try, which Kevin Sinfield converted.
Hull equalised almost immediately, through Mark Minichiello, who stepped over past Ablett, Stevie Ward hitting the deck in back play – from a pass by Marc Sneyd, who also converted.
In a televised game the decision would probably have been handed to the video refs to check for an obstruction, but Joe Cobb was happy to award the score, which was the last time the scoreboard operator was troubled before the break.
The try came in the set from Hull’s second penalty.
The half-time count was 2-1 in Hull’s favour and it finished 3-3, with Cobb having a strong game.
Rhinos didn’t have many attacking opportunities in the first half and they made errors when they did get down Hull’s end, Hardaker (twice), Garbutt, Stevie Ward, Peacock, Briscoe all losing possession in good field position and Sinfield kicking out on the full.
Hull weren’t a lot better and it was very scrappy, though the hosts almost made a breakthrough when Curtis Naughton dashed clear, they forced a drop out and after that Jordan Rankin’s kick hit a post, but Hardaker tidied up before the chasers got there.
At the other end Peacock forced his way over the line, but was held up by a posse of defenders, led by Mickey Paea.
Both defences were strong, though the errors took some of the pressure off.
Keinhorst went close early in the second half, but was pulled down almost on the Hull line on the last.
Hull finally broke the stalemate with a good try on 47 minutes, Jamie Shaul putting Michaels over at the corner after Dean Hadley had split the defence.
Leeds were back in front, following a penalty near Hull’s line.
Burrow began the move, Golding – who had just come on – was also involved and Ablett took the final pass to force his way over. Sinfield converted.
Golding – who was excellent, one mistake apart – went to full-back, with Hardaker taking over at stand-off and Sinfield moving to hooker.
Four minutes later the reshuffle paid off again as Sinfield put Hardaker into space, he drew Shaul and Burrow was in support to cross between the posts, the skipper’s goal making it 18-10.
Rhinos had an escape moments later when Jordan Rankin bounced the ball over the line from Sneyd’s grubber, but Leeds then knocked on at the other end and Shaul went almost the length of the field to score, Sneyd adding the extras.
That made it a two-point ball game, but Hull knocked on from the re-start, Burrow picked up and he sent Ryan Hall scampering over for a try which Sinfield converted.
Again, there was a try in response almost immediately. Jordan Abdull kicked through, Shaul picked up and he put Rankin over, Sneyd converting.
At 24-22 it was anybody’s game again.
Rhinos survived when Handley dropped Sneyd’s bomb near his own line and then Golding did the same under Sneyd’s kick.
Hul, should have scored the winner, Minichiello went close, the ball was passed to ground and Briscoe picked up with a clear run to the line.
He went the full length and Sinfield booted his fifth goal to make it 30-22.
The scoring was completed with three left when Burrow backed up Sinfield to go over and the skipper converted.