QUANTITY WON out over quality at Headingley last night as Leeds Rhinos beat Leigh Centurions 22-14 in a poor game.
Twelve of Rhinos’ 17 were playing their third game in eight days, one fewer than Leigh who were on a similar schedule.
Both sides put in a huge effort, but skill levels were low and there was little entertainment on show for the 13,445 crowd.
Referee James Child obviously had an eye on player welfare and ensured there were regular breaks in play – blowing his whistle 13 times for penalties in the first half and a similar number after the break.
Most of them were for technical offences, which was probably a result of player fatigue, though Leigh had two players sin-binned for fouls on Danny McGuire after he had kicked.
Rhinos – who won the Bev Risman Trophy – managed just two points in the 20 minutes they were playing against 12 men. That is an indication of how scrappy the game, played in wet conditions, was.
Leigh were fortunate to be only 14-10 behind at the interval, though they did make the most of their limited opportunities.
Leeds did most of the pressing after the break, but Leigh refused to throw in the towel and Rhinos could not get more than two scores clear.
Leeds have struggled against teams at the bottom of the table this year so it was a previous two points.
Leigh didn’t offer much on attack, but defended strongly and made Rhinos work hard for the points.
Two-try Adam Cuthbertson was Leeds’ outstanding player and Matt Parcell also had a big game, but it was a case of the team grinding out the win.
Having four players back from injury added some fresh legs to Leeds’ team. McGuire returned at stand-off after missing Monday’s defeat due to a foot injury and was involved in Leeds’ best moments.
Joel Moon switched back into the centres and Ash Handley dropped to the bench. He came on early in the second half at centre, with Moon going into the halves and Burrow coming off with a shoulder injury.
Mitch Garbutt returned from a five-match lay-off at prop. He picked up a knock after only five minutes and seemed on the point of being replaced, but ran it off in a strong individual effort.
Jamie Jones-Buchanan moved to the second-row in place of the suspended Stevie Ward and Cuthbertson took over at loose-forward.
Keith Galloway, who had missed the previous three games, was on the bench along with Carl Ablett, who ended a nine-game absence.
Jordan Baldwinson, again, dropped out along with Josh Walters who had been an unused substitute at Widnes. Players on the injured list were Ashton Golding, Brett Delaney and Jimmy Keinhorst.
Rhinos went ahead after seven minutes, following their first penalty of the game. Cuthbertson was heavily involved in the set and finished things off by slipping over from acting-half McGuire’s pass, though Liam Sutcliffe fluffed the conversion from just to the left of the posts.
Leeds got another penalty from the restart and McGuire and Sutcliffe fashioned an opening for Moon, but he knocked on.
On 14 minutes Jamie Acton knocked on to put pressure on Leigh in their own half and Tom Briscoe went over after finding himself in space from Kallum Watkins’ pass after Brad Singleton had handled and McGuire created the overlap.
At that stage it could have turned into a big win for Leeds, but the visitors hung in. Galloway would have marked his return with a try if he had been able to hold Parcell’s pass in front of the posts after 24 minutes, following a goal line drop out – forced by a kick from Jones-Buchanan – and scrum close to the line.
It had been solid Leeds pressure up until that point, but Leigh got back into the game 12 minutes before the break, Matty Dawson diving over at the corner from Matty Fleming’s offload after Ryan Hampshire landed a 40-20.
But then Leigh were penalised three times in succession, twice in front of their posts a few metres out and placed on a team warning.
It looked like they might hold out, but on the final tackle Burrow kicked left and Moon made an excellent catch to touch down for his 16th try of the season. Sutcliffe’s conversion made it 14-4 and Leeds went close to scoring a fourth try before the break, but Antoni Maria held Parcell up over the line after a strong run by Singleton. Instead it was Leigh who finished the half on a high. A penalty carried them upfield and on the final tackle a mix up between Ryan Hall and Sutcliffe from Drinkwater’s kick allowed the ball to bounce to Dawson and he twisted over. Drinkwater added the conversion after the hooter.
A minute into the second half McGuire was upended by Maria following a kick, to the anger of Galloway who got involved.
Child handled the incident well, sin-binning the Frenchman and awarding a penalty when the ball landed, which Sutcliffe converted.
Rhinos failed to add to their tally against the 12 men. Cuthbertson went closest, knocking on in front of the posts and then being penalised for dissent.
Moments after Maria returned, Leeds were placed on a team warning after conceding their third penalty of the half, to Leigh’s two.
Leeds’ fourth try eventually came on 57 minutes and it was Cuthbertson who scored it. Leigh did a good job of defending their line as Rhinos kept the ball alive in scintillating fashion, but on the last McGuire slid a superb grubber over the line and Cuthbertson made an excellent pick up, after the ball had evaded Ablett. Sutcliffe’s conversion made it 22-10.
A brilliant try-saving tackle by Maria denied Cuthbertson a hat-trick – and Leeds what would have been a clinching score – with 17 minutes left.
Another chance to wrap things up was missed when Sutcliffe was off-target with a penalty four minutes later, but almost immediately another foul on McGuire after a kick led to Dayne Weston being sin-binned. Sutcliffe had another go and missed again – his fourth miss from seven attempts.
Drinkwater landed a 40-20 almost immediately and Eloi Pelissier got over the line, but was penalised for a double movement, then Hall made an outstanding tackle to keep Fleming out.
After having had Child in charge of their game last Friday and Scott Mikalauskas in the middle three days later, they were both on duty tonight.
Leigh eventually got a consolation try on the final play when Hampshire’s cross kick was caught by Lachlan Burr and he sent Cory Paterson in to complete the scoring.
Mikaulaskas was a touch judge – alongside another Super League referee Chris Kendall – and Child was in the middle. The penalty count was 14-12 to Leeds (seven-six in Leeds favour in the first half).
Rhinos under-19s face Wakefield Trinity at Beaumont Legal Stadium, Belle Vue, today (2pm).