MATTERS WENT full circle last night as what was beginning to look like an unstoppable Leeds Rhinos express was derailed by Warrington Wolves.
Leeds had been in sparkling form since last month’s 18-6 loss at Warrington, which was their only previous defeat, but they fell well below their standards
Warrington scored five tries to two and were full value for their 29-10 victory, being the better team throughout.
It was a disappointing way for Kevin Sinfield to reach 500 games for Rhinos. He was among the substitutes and did not get into the action until six minutes into the second half, by which stage Leeds were 16 points behind.
Warrington got the benefit of some dubious decisions and referee James Child was very poor in his first game involving Leeds since a notorious defeat by Wolves at HJ Stadium last May.
Nobody involved with Leeds would complain if it is another 11 months before they get the pleasure of Child’s company again, but that is not to detract from an outstanding performance by the visitors.
They went into the game on a dismal run of results – one win in six games since their previous victory over Leeds – but played with greater energy, were much stronger in defence and ruthless with the ball.
They also got their tactics right, frustrating Leeds and not allowing them to settle into any sort of rhythm. Rhinos looked a different side to the one which had thrashed St Helens a week earlier, though 16 of the personnel were the same.
The only change was 20-year-old Rob Mulhern’s call-up among the substitutes, in place of fellow front-rower Andy Yates.
Mulhern, who was awarded the No 25 jersey at the start of the season, made three substitute appearances in 2014 and has been playing on dual-registration with Hunslet Hawks this term. He got on for the last six minutes.
Leeds started brightly, but faded after failing to find an early score. They applied some pressure from a penalty and drop out, Brad Singleton getting over the line, but being held up by Chris Hill and Carl Ablett also going close.
The next time Rhinos got close to Warrington’s line was on 30 minutes and they were 14-0 down.
Warrington struck first, after nine minutes. Initially, Ben Harrison touched down from Declan Patton’s kick, but the video referees – Ian Smith and Chris Leatherbarrow – said no try, due to what was a clear double-movement.
Rather than a penalty to Leeds, play was re-started with Warrington’s put in at a scrum, presumably the officials deciding Ash Handley had knocked on from the kick, though the ball seemed to go backwards.
On the final play Ben Currie kicked to the corner and Gene Ormsby dived through to touch down for an unconverted try.
On 16 minutes Child – and his touch judges – managed to miss the fact Richie Myler’s pass to Harrison was a yard forward. Harrison kicked to the corner and Joel Monaghan got the ball down in spectacular fashion. So that was two last-tackle kicks by Warrington’s back-rowers and both led to a try.
Warrington were worthy of their early lead as they played at a faster pace with the ball and muscled up impressively in defence.
On 22 minutes Ashton Sims dropped the ball as he was about to play it and Child awarded a penalty for a steal.
Leeds weren’t happy with the call, but they went to sleep in the resulting set allowing Sims to coast through an enormous gap from first-receiver close to the line, Stefan Ratchford converting to make it 14-0.
It could have been worse soon afterwards. Micky Higham landed a 40-20 kick and Leeds only escaped conceding a fourth try because Sims dropped the ball as he stretched over, with Handley and Joel Moon the tacklers.
That was a turning point in the half and Leeds finally managed to get on the front foot. They managed to get back into Warrington’s half 10 minutes before the interval, but superb defence kept them out, Paul Aiton and Mitch Achurch both being held up.
It looked like it would be a first half shutout – as it was in the game at HJ Stadium where Leeds trailed 12-0 at the interval – but the hosts managed to get points on the board two minutes before the break, following a defence-splitting break by Adam Cuthbertson.
Handley was held up, but Jamie Peacock, Danny McGuire, Liam Sutcliffe, Zak Hardaker and Ablett moved the ball right and Kallum Watkins made a one-handed put down at the corner, sending Leeds in 14-4 adrift.
Leeds needed to score next, but they found themselves 16 points down within three minutes of the re-start.
Former Castleford hooker Daryl Clark did the damage with a break up the middle, he supplied Ratchford and the full-back put Currie over.
Clark’s pass to Ratchford looked forward, but even so Leeds’ defenders missed tackles on both players, so the try – which Ratchford improved – should have been prevented.
On 50 minutes Warrington got a debatable feed at a scrum and Roy Asotasi went over from Ormsby’s pass in the resulting set, though again it was poor defence to blame.
Ratchford’s goal made it 26-4 and the game was beyond Leeds.
With 17 minutes left Peacock was penalised for a high tackle on Clark and Ratchford took the two from 40 metres out.
Soon afterwards Sinfield was the victim of a nasty elbow to the face from Sims, but Child – awarded only a penalty. That was the first of three in succession to Rhinos – though it was McGuire who copped a lecture from the ref – and the pressure eventually paid off with a consolation try for Achurch off McGuire’s pass, Sinfield converting.
But Warrington, deservedly, had the last laugh when Patton landed a late drop goal.
Leeds lost Watkins to a head injury mid-way through the second half. Child allowed play to continue, with Warrington attacking the home line, as he was down on the ground in obvious distress.
The penalty count finished 7-4 to Rhinos (3-2 to Rhinos in the first half).
Tommy Makinson took the honours as Saints ended their dismal run of only one victory in their previous five Super League matches with a 34-16 triumph at home to Widnes.
Full-back Makinson scored a spectacular long-range try to seal the win eight minutes from time and also set up another touchdown for youngster Matty Fleming.
Luke Walsh, making his first start of the season after breaking his leg last July, had only made two substitute appearances recently but also showed what Saints have been missing with a top show.
The 27-year-old scrum-half scored a try and helped create two others for Travis Burns and Alex Walmsley.