PAUL AITON’s first try in blue and amber finally broke Leeds Rhinos’ Huddersfield Giants hoodoo.
Played in difficult conditions, Rhinos looked set for a fifth successive home defeat by Huddersfield when Giants – who trailed 18-0 after 25 – went ahead with 11 minutes left, but the hooker squeezed over for the winning try on 74 minutes.
It was Rhinos’ first win in eight meetings with Huddersfield. They will feel they just about earned it, after scoring five tries to four, but Huddersfield would have deserved at least a point after hitting back so strongly twice in the game.
Leeds again looked good with the ball, but questions will be asked about their goal line defence, all Giants’ tries coming from close range.
Penalties played a big role in the first half. Rhinos received the first three, scoring tries off the back of two of them, to race into what looked to be a dominant lead.
But then, as seems to happen so often, the penalties suddenly started going the other way, Giants receiving four in the final 15 minutes of the half, two of those leading to tries as Rhinos struggled to get their goal line defence in order.
Rhinos went 10 points ahead at the start of the second half, only for Giants to claw their way in front before Aiton sealed a thrilling clash.
Carl Ablett was Leeds’ man of the match and his try opened the scoring after six minutes. Tom Briscoe retrieved a bouncing ball, made a half-break and was held down by Brett Ferres.
The penalty carried Leeds from near their line to close to Giants’ Aiton went on the blindside from acting-half to find Danny McGuire and Ablett ran a nice line, with a good step, from the resulting pass. Kevin Sinfield landed the conversion, via a post.
Rhinos were on the front foot for a long spell after that, though Giants kept them away from the line with some strong defence and excellent fielding of high kicks.
Giants made no real ground in the opening quarter, their one sight of Leeds’ line coming when Ferres dropped a pass from Craig Huby, who was a strange sight in claret and gold after so long as a Castleford Tigers player.
Ferres squandered what might have become a good attacking position when he was tackled by Paul Aiton in Leeds’ half and reacted by shoving the Rhinos hooker off his feet.
Leeds couldn’t make that penalty count, but soon after – on 22 minutes – they got another piggyback when Aaron Murphy was penalised for interference on Kallum Watkins.
In that set Ablett supplied Sinfield, he passed on to Adam Cuthbertson and the Aussie rolled over the line for his second try in as many games.
Sinfield converted from in front and then landed a touchline goal after Rhinos crossed again in the next set.
Ablett was again involved, taking the ball from Aiton and going left to Joel Moon. He made ground and then slipped the ball to his winger and Ryan Hall stormed over from 15 metres out, holding off two defenders to cross at the corner.
It wasn’t a case of Leeds clocking off after that, though their discipline may have been an issue. The hosts saw very little of the ball for the rest of the half as they were forced to defend a succession of repeat sets and they were hanging on desperately to their lead by the time the hooter sounded.
From Giants’ second penalty Jamie Ellis beat Zak Hardaker’s tackle to twist over, Danny Brough’s goal making it 18-6 with 10 minutes to go until the break.
Mitch Achurch thought he had got clear a few minutes later, but he was brought back for a knock-on by Stevie Ward.
Bentham evened up the penalty count – with a totally pointless differential penalty at the scrum – and Giants scored again in the next set, Joe Wardle going over from Shaun Lunt’s – clearly forward – pass.
Brough landed the goal to cut the gap to just six points at the break and Giants would have been level at the interval – following yet another penalty – had Wardle not dropped the ball over the line.
Giants kicked off the second half and Leeds scored 52 seconds later. It was a classy touchdown from a move beginning when Achurch offloaded to Ward. The second-rower tore clear on a diagonal run, held off several defenders and then lobbed out a pass to Tom Briscoe, who got over – for his third try in as many games – too far out for Sinfield to convert.
The Leeds skipper was flattened by Wardle as he kicked soon afterwards, to the anger of the home fans, but the challenge wasn’t late and Bentham correctly let play continue. Murphy managed to knock down a pass from Briscoe which might have created an opening for Watkins.
Leeds got up to Giants’ line following the scrum, then – after the visitors had got the ball from McGuire’s kick – Aiton was shoved over again, this time by Jake Connor. Leeds tapped the penalty, but tremendous defence kept them out.
Leeds survived a huge scare on the hour when Jermaine McGillvary got over at the corner, but video referees James Child and Matthew Thomason backed up Bentham’s original view that he had been tackled into touch.
Leeds then got back-to- back penalties and could have gone for goal with the second. They opted for a tap instead and it could have paid off, but Achurch dropped the ball over the line. That was a big moment as Giants scored in the next set when Kyle Wood touched down from Leroy Cudjoe’s kick and Brough converted, though the officials missed a clear forward pass in the build-up. With 11 minutes left Giants got a marginal penalty and again Leeds couldn’t keep them out, Ferres going over to level the scores and Brough adding the extras.
It seemed like curtains, but following a scrum near Giants’ line Achurch went close and then Aiton ducked through from acting-half, Sinfield converting. McGuire could have sealed it for Leeds, but Ellis’ last-gasp break gave them an anxious final few moments.
The only change for Rhinos from the win over Widnes Vikings 13 days earlier was Kylie Leuluai’s return on the bench, in place of Andy Yates.
Liam Sutcliffe continued among the substitutes, which meant Rob Burrow missed out for the second successive match. The point was made during last week’s World Club Series that those games were refereed differently to Super League matches. Last night’s game underlined the point. The penalty count finished 7-6 in Leeds’ favour.
Meanwhile, Rhinos under-19s beat Midlands Academy 42-0 at Stanningley last night.
Ash Handley scored two tries, Harry Boyes, Billy McDermott, Danny Halmshaw, Elliot Minchella and Ben Frankland also crossed and Joe Sanderson booted five goals.
The under-16s face Hull KR at Stanningley tomorrow (12.30pm).