LEEDS RHINOS’ disappointing season continued its downward spiral when they were beaten 25-18 by Huddersfield Giants.
It was Rhinos’ fourth successive Betfred Super League defeat and the top-four is out of reach now.
Indeed, unless they start finding wins from somewhere they are going to be in real danger of being dragged into the middle-eights Qualifiers.
To make a bad situation worse, they picked up yet more injuries, including one to yet another front-rower.
Nineteen-year-old Mikolaj Oledzki, who has emerged as one of the European game’s most promising rising stars this season, was hurt just before the break in a clash of heads with Stevie Ward.
The skipper eventually managed to get up and walk off for for a concussion test, but Oledzki needed treatment for 13 minutes before being taken from the field on a stretcher.
The news from the medical area was that he was conscious and talking at half-time. Ward, remarkably, returned for the start of the second half.
Richie Myler took a bang to the head in the second half and was the third Rhinos player to need a head test. He did not come back on.
Then in the final moments Jordan Lilley hobbled off. With Brett Ferres in the sin-bin and no substitutes left, Rhinos finished with 11 players.
Leeds trailed 18-12 when Oledzki went off, which was the half-time score, Giants having made the better use of their limited chances.
Rhinos equalised straight after the interval, but Giants quickly went ahead for the third time.
It was nip and tuck after that, though Huddersfield looked the more threatening side.
Leeds had territory, possession and enough time to pull the game from the fire, but rarely looked like doing so and Giants deserved the points from Simon Woolford’s first win as coach.
It was a tense rather than exciting game, but there were few errors from either team. Giants defended strongly and their game-management was good, but Leeds didn’t ask enough questions with ball in hand, particularly in the second half. That was, to an extent, understandable given the disruption during the game.
Rhinos have been starting poorly all season, but especially over the past couple of months.
This was the fourth successive game – and seventh in the last eight – they have conceded the opening score.
After seven minutes Jordan Turner’s grubber was picked up by Alex Mellor and he sent Kruise Leeming over.
Young half-back Oliver Russell – called up for only his second senior game in place of the suspended Danny Brough – added the extras, but Leeds responded quickly.
A penalty took them into Giants territory and Matt Parcell scooted over from acting-half, Lilley’s goal levelling the scores.
That was on 11 minutes and Leeds were in front five later. Mitch Garbutt announced his return with a strong run and then a nice offload from Adam Cuthbertson sent Stevie Ward dashing clear.
He had Liam Sutcliffe on his right shoulder and the centre kicked infield for Myler, who picked up and went between the posts to give Lilley an easy kick.
Sutcliffe started at centre for only his sixth appearance of the season and first since the win at Wakefield Trinity exactly two months ago.
He replaced hamstring victim Jimmy Keinhorst. Also sidelined from last week’s team was second-rower Carl Ablett, due to a calf muscle tear.
Brett Delaney returned from injury on the bench and Josh Walters stepped up into the starting line-up at loose-forward.
Anthony Mullally was suspended, but Garbutt – out since the home victory against Hull three months to the day due to knee damage – was back among the substitutes.
It was only his third game this year. Brad Dwyer and Jack Ormondroyd were the players not selected from the 19-man squad named on Wednesday. They are both in contention to feature on dual-registration for Featherstone Rovers away to Dewsbury Rams tomorrow.
Members of the full-time squad still on the injury list are Kallum Watkins (knee), stand-off Joel Moon (Achilles), props Brad Singleton (broken hand) and Nathaniel Peteru (biceps) and second-rowers Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Alex Sutcliffe (both knee).
Leeds had a chance of a third try when Jack Walker picked up a kick near his own line and fed Parcell, who burst past the first defender and into space. Ash Handley was in support, but when the pass came he could not hang on.
Walker picked up a knock in the first half. He played on, but was replaced early in the second period by Ashton Golding, though he returned after Myler was hurt.
Russell is a promising talent and his pass sent Aaron Murphy over on 30 minutes, thhe half-back adding the extras to equalise at 12-12.
And Huddersfield were ahead by the break. Walker stood his ground to make a tremendous try-saving tackle on Matty English, but Giants moved the ball wide and Alex Mellor, who had a fine game, stepped through for the visitors’ third converted try.
Rhinos got off to a perfect start with a try a minute into the second period. Lilley’s high kick was batted by Giants’ full-back to Cameron Smith and he gathered to cross for his second try in as many games and first at Super League level.
Lilley booted the extras to make it all square, but not for long. Leeds were caught offside and Adam O’Brien, Giants’ substitute hooker, nipped over from acting-half close to the line, Russell maintaining his 100 per cent conversion rate.
Jordan Rankin and Lee Gaskell almost carved out another try for Giants moments later and Russell had the chance to open a two-score gap on the hour, but his penalty attempt was off-target.
In the set from, the re-start Ryan Hinchcliffe got over the line after some quick handling, but he was held up by Cameron Smith, among others.
Seven minutes from time a foul by Handley sparked a skirmish which resulted in yellow cards for Ferres – his second in successive games – and Jermaine McGillvary.
Seconds after that, with six minutes left, Russell had a drop kick charged down, but Leeds failed to pick the ball up and the scrum-half landed a one-pointer in the next set to put the game out of Rhinos’ reach.
The penalty count finished eight-six in Leeds’ favour (three-three in the first half).