YOUNG gun and old warrior scored the vital tries that earned Leeds Rhinos a precious third win of the season last night.
Rhinos trailed Hull going into the final quarter, but impressive 19-year-old scrum-half Jordan Lilley edged them back in front with his first senior try and then Jamie Jones-Buchanan, 34, went over to open a two-score gap for the only time in the game.
Hull hit back immediately and for the seventh time this year the tries were shared, but Leeds won 20-18 because of the intelligent decision to kick for goal with a penalty late in the first half.
Rhinos opened the scoring for only the third occasion in 2016 and, despite conceding a soft try, led by two at the break.
They went behind almost immediately afterwards, but showed great character to edge out a team who had won their previous five.
It was a much better game than could have been expected given the conditions – it poured down throughout – and the number of strike players watching from the sidelines.
The game flowed from end to end, there were surprisingly few errors and a couple of controversial moments – plus the close nature of the contest – kept a 15,888 crowd riveted throughout.
Eight of Rhinos’ senior squad were unavailable and Hull were missing some big players. Full-back Jamie Shaul was ruled out because of illness and he joined Leon Pryce, Carlos Tuimavave, Mark Minichiello and Gareth Ellis on the sick list.
Jimmy Keinhorst and Brett Delaney were both back for Rhinos.
With Danny McGuire sidelined, Keinhorst came into the centres and Liam Sutcliffe moved to stand-off, alongside Lilley who was promoted off the bench.
Rob Burrow switched from starting scrum-half to hooker and Keith Galloway stepped up from the bench into the front-row, swapping places with Brad Singleton.
Beau Falloon and Brett Delaney were also among the replacements and the unlucky Jordan Baldwinson was left out. Falloon did not get on.
Being able to leave a fit player out was a step forward for Rhinos. Ryan Hall, Tom Briscoe, Joel Moon, McGuire, Adam Cuthbertson, Josh Walters, Stevie Ward and Brett Ferres were all missing due to injury.
Neither side was able to get a firm grip on the game and it ebbed and flowed from the start. A big tackle from Keinhorst forced Danny Washbrook into an error and the hosts kept Hull out from successive penalties early on.
Ash Handley was slid into touch after a break by Keinhorst, who had gone clear from Mitch Achurch’s pass.
A Frank Pritchard run came to nothing and then Leeds applied heavy pressure following a penalty, but Steve Michaels’ big hit jarred the ball out of Keinhorst’s grasp.
The German international was heavily involved and he grabbed the opening try after 16 minutes, getting over at the corner off a superb long pass by Zak Hardaker.
Lilley landed a magnificent goal off the touchline. Rhinos survived a mistake by Hardaker following the restart and a goal line drop out and their confidence was beginning to grow.
Hull’s Marc Sneyd failed to find touch with a penalty and Rhinos force a drop out in the resulting set, but Galloway spilled Burrow’s pass in front of the posts.
Michaels fumbled Lilley’s kick behind his own line and the visitors were looking the more nervous side.
Rhinos needed to find a second score to build on their strong start and it almost came off a strong run by Hardaker, but he lost possession in the tackle.
Leeds conceded a penalty on the final tackle of the next set and then a drop out and there was a sense of inevitability about events as Chris Green powered straight through the defence from Scott Taylor’s pass and Sneyd’s conversion levelled the scores nine minutes before the break.
Having been the better team up to that point, the challenge for Rhinos was to come up with a positive response.
That they did as Curtis Naughton dropped Lilley’s kick, Hull then conceded a drop out and were caught offside following that.
Sensibly, with three minutes of the half remaining, captain Rob Burrow pointed at the posts and Lilley took the two and Rhinos went in at the break 8-6 ahead.
For only the third time this year, Rhinos came out for the second half with a lead to protect. They managed to do that for two minutes.
Frank the Tank – Pritchard – charged through the middle and though Ash Handley bravely managed to pull him down, Sneyd kicked through and Kirk Yeaman touched down.
The centre seemed to be in front of the kicker, but referee Joe Cobb said try and video official Robert Hicks agreed. Sneyd’s goal made it 12-8. Pritchard limped off soon afterwards, which was a relief for Leeds after a succession of storming runs from the gigantic Kiwi.
Four points down, it was a big test for Leeds, who didn’t deserve to be behind at that stage, but they responded strongly for the second time in the match.
Handley made a terrific break, Burrow carried it on and was felled by a tackle around the head from Liam Watts.
It wasn’t a red card offence, but the Hull man should have been sin-binned. Referee Cobb awarded only a penalty and the visitors’ fully-manned defence held out.
Those two crucial calls are the sort that go against teams when they are struggling. The way Hull’s big men made inroads up the middle was something Leeds could control, but didn’t.
Taylor took the direct approach on 57 minutes and could have put breathing space between the sides, but for a sensational tackle from Hardaker.
That was a big moment as four minutes later Leeds were back in front, thanks to some opportunism by Lilley close to the line.
The teenager, who was excellent in his specialist position, grubbered against Danny Houghton, picked up and plunged over the top of Houghton and Sika Manu.
That was his first Super League try and he kept his nerve to land the angled conversion, making it 14-12.
With seven minutes left Sutcliffe, who had a good game, went close and sheer force of will took Jones-Buchanan over on the next play.
Lilley’s fourth goal opened an eight-point gap, but Hardaker couldn’t take the restart and Houghton slid over from Sneyd’s grubber in the resulting set.
Sneyd kicked the extras, but Leeds held on for a vital win, which ended a run of four successive defeats.
The penalty count finished 9-5 in Rhinos’ favour (4-4 at half-time).