A GOLDEN opportunity to go top of the table was wasted when Leeds Rhinos were out-played, out-enthused and eventually embarrassed 31-12 by lowly Huddersfield Giants at Headingley last night.
The visit of second-bottom Giants, who had not won for more than two months and were knocked out of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup by semi-professional side Swinton Lions four days earlier, looked like a banana skin.
Huddersfield had nothing really to lose and could only improve on their previous performance. With Danny Brough calling the shots – and producing the sort of performance he has so often in the past against Leeds – and Kruise Leeming and Ryan Hinchcliffe also catching the eye, they did that.
They were by far the better team, especially in a one-sided second half, but Rhinos would still have been good enough to win if they had got anywhere near the performance level of recent weeks.
Victory would have taken Leeds two points clear of current Betfred Super League leaders Castleford Tigers, but that incentive was not enough to stir Rhinos.
They have suggested in recent weeks they may be contenders for silverware this season, but last night’s effort will only revive all the old questions.
They made far too many errors and never looked like getting a grip on the game. England football manager Gareth Southgate was among the crowd, as a guest of the Leeds Rhinos Foundation – but he wasn’t treated to Super League at its finest.
It was the fourth fixture in two weeks and though both teams were much-changed from their Challenge Cup line-ups, fatigue clearly played a part in a scrappy, error-ridden encounter.
Both teams led and equalised in the opening period, which ended 12-12. That was a fair reflection.
Nothing much had happened in the opening 40 and it continued in that vein in the early stages after the break.
Rhinos would still have been good enough to win if they had got anywhere near the performance level of recent weeks.YEP rugby league writer, Peter Smith
But video referee Robert Hicks’ decision to disallow a Danny McGuire touchdown proved crucial and Giants scored two converted tries soon afterwards to take firm control.
Rhinos were outscored 19-0 in a second half which was a throwback to the dark days of last season.
Leeds couldn’t blame injuries or absentees. Tom Briscoe, Matt Parcell, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Brett Delaney and Stevie Ward returned after being rested against Doncaster a week earlier and Anthony Mullally was back following one game out with a rib injury.
Mullally lasted only 10 minutes before being taken off, though he did return for the final six minutes after Mitch Garbutt suffered a head injury in a collision with Jake Mamo.
In hindsight Mullally’s inclusion was an unnecessary gamble, assuming props Jack Ormondroyd, Jordan Baldwinson and Mikolaj Oledzki – who dropped out from the team that beat Doncaster – are fit.
Others stepping down were Jordan Lilley, Josh Walters and Sam Hallas, who has resumed his loan stint with Bradford Bulls.
Josh Jordan-Roberts, who was recalled from Bradford before Easter but did not play for Leeds, had his appendix removed this week and will be sidelined for up to six weeks.
With 17-year-old Walker retaining his place at full-back, Ash Handley moved into the problem centre slot – his third different position in as many games since returning to the side, while Rob Burrow didn’t get on until 15 minutes from the end. Walker again looked the part and could hold his head high, though not many of his teammates were in a similar situation at the end.
It was the fifth game of Brett Ferres’ six-match ban and Liam Sutcliffe, Jimmy Keinhorst and Carl Ablett remained on the injured list, alongside Golding.
Huddersfield dominated the opening exchanges, but conceded the first try.
Danny Brough put Leeds on the defensive with a 40-20 in the opening minute and they had to defend their line again after Ryan Hall knocked on in their first set.
Walker cleared that danger with a run from Brough’s grubber, but it was eight minutes before Leeds had possession in Huddersfield’s half.
Following a couple of early Giants penalties, wasted by knock-ons near Leeds’ line, Parcell broke the deadlock on 13 minutes after Jermaine McGillvary lost possession and was then penalised.
Jones-Buchanan drove the ball in and Parcell threw a dummy and ghosted through a huge gap from acting-half for his seventh try of the season. Kallum Watkins converted. It was poor defence, but Leeds were caught out in similar fashion later in the half.
On 18 minutes a penalty against Brough for interference on the final tackle gave Rhinos a great attacking opportunity, but Garbutt was immediately penalised for moving off the mark. Rhinos conceded another penalty in the resulting set – for a high tackle by Adam Cuthbertson – and Giants levelled from that when Alex Mellor’s kick was well read by impressive full-back Mamo and he collected to cross for a try which Brough improved.
With 15 minutes left in the half Leeming booted a terrific 40-20 and then went over from acting-half in the resulting set and Brough’s conversion made it 12-6.
Rhinos levelled quite quickly. Ward, who had just come on, made an excellent break and then sent Walker on a run and the youngster stepped past Mamo before trying to return the pass.
The ball came off Darnell McIntosh and was touched by the winger again before Joel Moon collected and scooted over.
Referee Chris Kendall indicated a try, but it took video assistant Robert Hicks a surprisingly long time to agree. Watkins added the extras to complete the first half scoring.
A crucial moment in the game 12 minutes after the break when McGuire stepped through the defence for what looked like a lovely solo try.
Kendall thought it was, but video referee Hicks said no due to an obstruction.
Giants received another penalty in the resulting set, Adam O’Brien was held up over the line and then he kicked through and Dale Feguson just got the ball down before it went dead.
Hicks awarded the try and Brough converted.
At the start of the final quarter Cuthbertson knocked on coming out of Leeds’ end and McIntosh raced over from a pass by Brough, who also added the extras and landed a drop goal with 12 minutes left.
A couple of minutes later Oliver Roberts forced his way over from acting-half and after another seemingly endless succession of replays, Hicks backed-up Kendall’s judgement and gave the try, which Brough converted.
The penalty count finished 12-8 in Huddersfield’s favour (4-4 in the first half).
Leeds Rhinos: Walker; Briscoe, Watkins, Handley, Hall; McGuire, Moon; Galloway, Parcell, Mullally, Jones-Buchanan, Delaney, Cuthbertson. Substitutes: Burrow, Ward, Singleton, Garbutt.
Huddersfield Giants: Mamo; McGillvary, Mellor, Murphy, McIntosh; Brough, Wood; Ikahihifo, Leeming, Wakeman, Roberts, Ferguson, Hinchcliffe. Substitutes: Clough, Smith, English, O’Brien.
Referee: C Kendall (Huddersfield).