IT WAS a new-look Emerald Headingley, but a familiar story as Leeds Rhinos extended their 11-year winning run there against Hull to 14 matches last night.
Rhinos scored four tries to three, but Hull were the better team for much of a tense and tight contest between two teams who are not yet at their best.
However, Leeds’ more clinical finishing was the difference in the end – plus an outstanding defensive effort from the hosts.
Rhinos led 10-0 after 15 minutes, but the zip went out of their game after a solid start and Hull battled their way back into the contest.
They were the better team in the second quarter and were unlucky not to be at least level at the break, when Leeds led by four.
The home side extended that advantage by 10 points in the third quarter, but Hull hit back with two quick tries and that set up a nervy finale, Leeds eventually hanging on to win 20-16.
It was a stop-start contest with video referee Phil Bentham being called on seven times and overruling the on-field official, Robert Hicks on three occasions.
Rhinos’ side was stronger than the one which lost at Widnes Vikings in their previous game, with Tom Briscoe, Ryan Hall, Joel Moon and Carl Ablett all returning in the starting line-up and Anthony Mullally and Jack Walker – who was not used – back on the bench.
They were without Jimmy Keinhorst (knee), Liam Sutcliffe (foot) and Brad Dwyer (ribs) who were hurt at Widnes and joined Adam Cuthbertson (hand), Nathaniel Peteru (biceps), Brett Ferres (knee) and Stevie Ward (calf) on the injury list.
Hull were also missing key men, with Albert Kelly, Danny Houghton, Bureta Faraimo and Mickey Paea all injured and Liam Watts beginning a three-game ban.
They could have thrown in the towel after being outplayed in the opening 20 minutes, but showed good character to dig in and battle back twice and they deserved at least a share of the spoils.
It looked like being a routine Rhinos home win over Hull in the early stages. The champions went ahead after five minutes with a try out of nothing.
Richie Myler had probably his best game for Leeds so far. He hoisted a kick on the last and Kallum Watkins rose above a hesitant defence to collect and twist over.
Watkins slipped making his conversion attempt, but still managed to land the kick between the posts.
Myler was again the provider when Leeds increased their lead 10 minutes later, the scrum-half floating a pass to Tom Briscoe who touched down at the corner.
Referee Hicks handed the decision on and video assistant Bentham gave the green light, but Watkins could not add the extras.
In the next set Jack Logan spilled a kick to give Leeds the ball back and Briscoe went over again from Watkins’ pass.
Hicks thought it was a try, but the winger had been forced into touch by Marc Sneyd and Bentham ruled it out,
On 24 minutes Jake Connor kicked to the corner and after a scramble Logan – back in the side after almost two years on the sidelines due to injury – picked up and went over.
Hicks indicated no try and it was ruled out for offside.
Hull only got into Rhinos’ half twice in the opening quarter, both in penalty sets, Sneyd kicking into touch from the first and the Brad Fash knocking on after Scott Taylor had forced his way close to the line and dropped the ball backwards.
Their third penalty came on 29 minutes and produced the visitors’ opening try, Dean Hadley – who was so impressive during his loan stint at Wakefield Trinity last year and was this week named in the England Knights squad – touching down after Sneyd grubbered between the posts. Hicks, again, had to ask for confirmation and the Sneyd added the extras. A couple of minutes later Sneyd almost jinked through the middle, but Josh Walters made a fine tackle to shut the door.
A minute before the break it looked like Hull had scored when Josh Griffin forced his way over after Sneyd and Connor had handled.
Hicks handed the decision and and Bentham awarded Leeds a penalty for obstruction, which seemed a harsh decision, particularly as the on-field ruling was a try.
A minute into the second half Bentham cancelled that out by disallowing a touchdown by Jamie Jones-Buchanan after Hicks had indicated a try. On the last, Ash Handley supplied Hall, he kicked infield and Jones-Buchanan touched down after Myler had hacked on, but Hull were – eventually – awarded a penalty for offside.
Hull poured forward after that, forcing Rhinos into some desperate defence on their own line. A penalty eventually lifted the siege and another one moments later led to Leeds’ third try.
This time Hicks was overruled by a touchjudge. The referee was ready to award a 20-metre restart after Connor had caught Myler’s kick behind Hull’s line.
But the flag waver had spotted a foul on Hall and from the penalty Watkins ran a great line to power over off Myler’s pass, though he hit a post with his attempt to add the extra two.
Five minutes later Briscoe also doubled up with his second try. Again,Myler was involved, accepting a pass from Moon and then handing on to Watkins, who provided the final ball.
This time Watkins converted superbly off the touchline and, after being under the cosh a few minutes earlier, Leeds suddenly led 20-6.
Not for long though. Hull caught Leeds by surprise with a short restart and in the resulting set Jordan Abdull went over from close-range and Sneyd’s kick made it an eight- point ball game again.
Taylor was held up over the Leeds line moments before Fetuli Talanoa held off Golding to cross at the corner, Bentham backing up Hicks’ decision of try, though Sneyd could not convert.
That made it 20-16 with 10 minutes left and Leeds were never comfortable through a tense finale.
Hicks was in charge of his third successive Leeds game, though he had not been due to do last week’s postponed clash with Catalans Dragons.
The penalty count was 8-8 (5-4 to Leeds in the first half).
Last night’s attendance was 11,158. There was a muted atmosphere despite a quarter of the South Stand and the temporary North Stand both being open for the first time.
It will be an impressive stadium when the redevelopment is finished, but Rhinos did a remarkable job getting it in a fit state to host a Super League game in such a short space of time.