HOLDERS LEEDS Rhinos came up with a vintage Challenge Cup performance to seal a place in tomorrow’s semi-final draw thanks to a superbly gutsy 24-6 win at Hull last night.
It wasn’t the most fluid display but Leeds – missing a host of key players – were tough, resilient and determined.It was a hard-fought Cup tie from the off and Leeds had the attitude of taking points whenever they could.
In a league match they would have kicked for touch with penalties in the opposition’s half, but Sinfield went for goal on five occasions, landing three of them.
Three of the kicks were from long-range and the other two close to the touchline. having applied a stranglehold, Leeds worked their socks off to maintain it.
It was 10-0 at the break and 16-0 soon afterwards and Leeds came up with a couple of huge defensive efforts at that stage before wrapping things up with their third try nine minutes from time.
Hull had enough possession and territory to score more points, but they made a series of basic errors – near both lines – and rarely put Leeds under sustained pressure.
Not all the mistakes were forced, but many of them were by a magnificent defensive effort from Rhinos.
After leaking too many points in recent matches, they tightened up considerably and were back to the standards set in the first half of last year.
Brett Delaney and Zak Hardaker both prevented what looked to be certain tries, but it was a terrific effort all round.
The fact Leeds did it without six first-choice players, including three from the league win over Hull five days earlier, made their display all the more impressive.
As expected, Rhinos were without Danny McGuire – probably their player of the season so far – due to the ankle injury he suffered last Sunday.
His half-back partner from last weekend, Liam Sutcliffe, was also ruled out. He is due to undergo major knee surgery next Thursday and will miss the rest of the season.
And to prove things come in threes, prop Adam Cuthbertson failed to recover from the calf injury he suffered in the previous game.
Sinfield stepped up off the bench into the stand-off role, with Rob Burrow being recalled at scrum-half.
Sinfield was magnificent, running the show from start to finish and being involved in most of what Leeds did in defence and attack.
Jamie Peacock started, swapping places with the benched Brad Singleton in the other change to the starting line-up.
Delaney had a strong game after being recalled among the substitutes, along with Andy Yates and Robbie Ward.
The latter returned from his dual-registration spell with Hunslet Hawks for his first appearance of this season and he played the last five minutes, while Yates also had a brief spell in the second half.
Leeds needed a good start and got it, going ahead with an unusual try on five minutes. Joel Moon popped up at acting-half on the final tackle and hoisted a towering kick to Rhinos’ left flank.
He managed to get across to the corner, get above Jordan Rankin to make the catch, shrug off the full-back and touch down, Sinfield adding the extras. Hull had to reshuffle shortly before kick-off when Setaimata Sa, who had been named in the centres, withdrew because of illness, so Steve Michaels came into the team.
Mark Minichiello was able to play, despite having suffered a calf injury in the league game and they were able to recall Rankin, Tom Lineham, Kirk Yeaman, Joe Westerman and Josh Bowden.
Jamie Shaul, Curtis Naughton and Chris Green were the other players to drop out, along with Sa and the suspended Marc Sneyd. Michaels had an early chance for Hull, but he was well tackled by Kallum Watkins, chasing back, before Sinfield booted a penalty, after Hull were caught offside, to make it 8-0 at the end of the first quarter. Clear opportunities were at a premium, despite the game being played at a high intensity and with both teams looking to promote the ball.
Driving rain, which began when the match did, made handling difficult and Hull in particular were guilty of putting the ball down in good field position.
Other than the try, Leeds’ only really threatening raid in the opening half hour came from a run by Watkins.
His pass was knocked down – and forward – by Danny Houghton, but referee James Child allowed play to continue rather than awarding the scrum. On 34 Burrow’s kick was well claimed by Michaels, but Yeaman shoved Ash Handley off the ball. Sinfield opted to kick for goal, five metres in from touch, but was off-target.
The ball didn’t go dead, Rankin caught it and countered, but Leeds managed to get enough players back to defend the set.
A couple of minutes later Westerman knocked-on deep in Hull territory. From the scrum, Zak Hardaker spilled the ball, but Child awarded a penalty for a steal by Yeaman.
It was in almost the same spot as Sinfield’s earlier attempt, but this time he sent it between the posts to send Rhinos in at the break with a 10-0 lead. That was increased early in the second half, after a knock-on by Jordan Thompson close to Hull’s line.
Kylie Leuluai went agonisingly close, then Hall ran across field and supplied Sinfield, he slipped a reverse pass to Watkins and the big centre strode over for a fine try.
Sinfield booted the conversion to make it 16-0 and then hit the cross bar – the ball bouncing out – with a long-range penalty shot moments later.
It was a shame he hadn’t done that in the half-time break, as sponsors Ladbrokes were offering a big cash prize in a crossbar challenge.
At the end of the third quarter Hull had three sets on Leeds’ line, through a drop-out, scrum after a knock-down and penalty and it looked as though the pressure would pay off when Gareth Ellis stormed on to Danny Houghton’s pass, but Delaney made a sensational tackle to force the ball loose just short of the line.
The two minutes after that, Westerman dashed clear and looked a certain scores, but Hardaker managed to bring him down with a tug of a leg and the loose-forward spilled the ball. Those were big moments in the game. A Hull try then would have got them in it, but Leeds were rarely threatened after that and sealed their place in the semi-finals with a try eight minutes from time, Hardaker getting over after a move begun by Burrow and also involving Jimmy Keinhorst and Sinfield.
The skipper added the extras and then booted another penalty from distance in the re-start set. It looked like Leeds would keep a clean sheet, but Jordan Abdull crossed four minutes from the end for a try which Rankin improved.
The penalty count finished 6-6 (4-2 in Leeds’ favour in the first half).