LEEDS RHINOS’ dismal season ended on an appropriately dire note when they were embarrassed 17-16 by Toronto Wolfpack at Emerald Headingley last night.
Gareth O’Brien landed the winning drop goal five minutes from time to condemn Rhinos to their fifth one-point loss of the year.
Rhinos will be playing in Betfred Super League next year - thanks to their points difference - but unless they strengthen significantly another relegation battle will be on the cards.
Leeds knew anything better than a 32-point defeat would make them safe and they looked like they couldn’t wait to be on the end-of-season trip to Dublin.
It was a miserable farewell to Ryan Hall, Joel Moon – whose last action as a Rhinos player was to send a drop goal attempt wide – and try scorer Jimmy Keinhorst.
The defeat to the Championship league leaders was Leeds’ first loss to a lower division team since a John Player Special Trophy exit at Barrow in November, 1985 and cost them top spot in the Qualifiers.
Toronto will, at worst, be in the million pound game and will be promoted if Hull KR lose to Widnes on Sunday or win by less than 13 points.
Rhinos trailed 12-10 at the break, having conceded a try on the hooter.
Both their touchdowns came from kicks and they offered very little with ball in hand, running up some blind alleys and making too many errors.
Toronto weren’t much better, but they showed more urgency, took the couple of chances that came their way and their spoiling tactics were effective.
Dom Crosby, a prop-forward, was twice tackled in possession on the last near Toronto’s line – once in each half – which summed up Rhinos’ lack of invention.
Rhinos survived a couple of scares to get their noses back in front in the third quarter, but Toronto squared the scores on 64 minutes and the winning one-pointer had a certain inevitability about it.
The first notable action was a pointless referral to video referee Phil Bentham, who took an age deciding there had been no knock-on before Mason Caton-Brown – clearly – failed to touch down O’Brien’s kick.
That came after Toronto had failed to find touch with a kick – which Ashton Golding kept in play – then the visitors were penalised and Liam Sutcliffe knocked on on the first tackle.
That set the tone for an error-strewn opening to what was a poor-quality, scrappy game which was not helped by some inconsistent refereeing.
It was Toronto who broke the deadlock after 13 minutes, O’Brien’s break being finished off by Cory Paterson.
That was the first time Rhinos had failed to open the scoring since Brian McDermott’s final game in charge, at Wigan exactly three months earlier.
Rhinos hit back at the end of the first quarter. They looked to be going nowhere, but Richie Myler, Brett Ferres and Golding kept the ball alive on the last and Tom Briscoe ran through to score from Sutcliffe’s grubber.
Referee Robert Hicks indicated no try, but was overturned after handing the decision on.
There was no goal and O’Brien added a penalty to his conversion of Paterson’s try, after a high tackle by Dom Crosby on Jake Emmitt.
Leeds went in front through their half-back combination of Myler and Sutcliffe. Player of the year Myler dabbed a kick over the line and Sutcliffe rose above the defence to catch and touch down, also adding the extras to make it 10-8 with 12 minutes remaining in the half.
Rhinos led on for the next 11 minutes and 57 seconds, but Toronto led at the break through a try by Nick Rawsthorne, a former Yorkshire Carnegie player, who had a spell in Leeds’ academy.
Keinhorst lost the ball, Rhinos were penalised and on the hooter the winger crossed from Josh McCrone’s pass after Adam Sidlow and Jack Buchanan had handled.
O’Brien couldn’t convert from wide out, but Rhinos needed to go up several gears in the second period.
Andy Ackers and Adam Sidlow were both held up over the Leeds line early in the second half and it looked like the visitors had extended their lead following the latter’s near-miss. McCrone grubbered over the line, Keinhorst missed the ball and Blake Wallace claimed he had touched down.
Hicks thought so, but replays showed Myler had got downward pressure first.
That was a huge let-off for Leeds and they rallied to go ahead soon afterwards, with 25 minutes left. Brad Dwyer had a good run and supplied Keinhorst who did well to stretch over. Sutcliffe converted off a post to make it 16-12.
That should have given Rhinos a platform to get the job done, but their inability to build on, or often hold, a lead has been a problem all season and Toronto levelled with 16 minutes left when Matty Russell went over from Bob Beswick’s kick.
Rhinos were reduced to 12 men on 69 minutes when Crosby was sin-binned for dangerous contact on Darcy Lussick.
McCrone and Myler both missed with drop goal attempts before O’Brien struck his winning kick from 40 metres with four minutes left.
In the final seconds Moon missed with a similar effort.
There were three changes to the Rhinos side which won at Halifax five days earlier.
Jack Walker missed out due to concussion so Ashton Golding returned at full-back after four games on the sidelines.
Last week’s captain Brad Singleton began a two-game ban and was replaced in the 17 by previous skipper Brett Ferres after a one-match suspension.
Anthony Mullally was recalled, also after four games out, on the bench in place of Josh Walters.
As well as Walker, players on the casualty list at the end of the season were knee injury victims Kallum Watkins, Ryan Hall, Mitch Garbutt and Carl Ablett, plus Stevie Ward (ankle) and Brett Delaney (fractured cheekbone).
The penalty count finished 11-10 to Toronto (five-five in the first half).
Meanwhile, Rhinos under-19s were beaten 14-6 at Wigan Warriors in yesterday’s academy Grand Final.
Wigan scored an early try through Sam Grant, but Rhinos hit back after 29 minutes when Owen Trout went over and Harvey Spence’s conversion edged them into a 6-4 half-time lead.
Rhinos led until the 54th minute when James Worthington squeezed over at the corner and Sam Halsall’s try, converted by Harry Smith, sealed it with five minutes left.
Rhinos academy prop Spencer Darley is understood to be set to join team-mates Dakota Whylie and Kiedan Hartley at Featherstone Rovers next season.