AT LAST Leeds Rhinos produced the sort of display they are capable of to stun St Helens at Headingley Carnegie.
Rhinos’ 30-18 victory was only their second in six First Utility Super League matches this year, but proved they can still be a force this season if they get their game together.
Leeds were far from perfect, but they thoroughly deserved the points, despite seeing a 16-0 lead after 11 minutes whittled away in the first half.
Within 10 minutes, Saints had cut their advantage to just four and the visitors went in front late in the half, only for Leeds to snatch the lead back on the final play.
It was no less frantic in the second period, though remarkably there was only one more try.
It was untidy at times, but hugely entertaining and exciting, with the lead changing hands three times.
On occasions, particularly the middle of the first half, Leeds’ form dipped back towards what it has been, but overall it was a much improved performance, particularly on attack.
That was despite the continued absence of Danny McGuire for the sixth successive game.
He has recovered from the knee injury suffered in round one, but – as sometimes happens – damaged a calf strain which kept him on the sidelines last night.
Rob Burrow shifted into the halves and Beau Falloon made his first start – and home debut – at hooker.
The Aussie gave Leeds something they have been missing this year. He took some wrong options, but had a high workrate, was lively out of dummy-half and created a couple of tries.
Jordan Lilley, who was due to be left out for the first time this season, took a place on the bench.
Jimmy Keinhorst did not feature due to a calf injury. The official word before the game was that Brad Singleton and Mitch Garbutt were ‘not selected’, which was a strange decision.
Carl Ablett, out since damaging an ankle at Widnes on February 14, returned and hamstring victims Joel Moon and Brett Delaney – who both missed last week’s loss at Wigan – were also back.
Delaney was in the wars again, suffering concussion early in the first half and not returning.
Ryan Hall did not take part after the half-time break and Leeds lined up in the second period with Kallum Watkins on the right-wing and Ablett as his centre.
Ash Handley switched to the left flank, outside Moon. The young winger has a habit of playing well against Saints – scoring two hat-tricks in meetings with them last year – and he continued that with a terrific effort, including one outstanding try-saving tackle.
Rhinos looked full of enthusiasm from the off and scored two converted tries in the opening five minutes and three in the first 11.
On the final tackle of their initial set, Saints’ Jack Owens chipped a kick straight at Handley. He countered into Saints’ territory before taking the tackle by Luke Walsh.
He could have opted to use players in support, but hanging on to the ball paid off as Leeds kept the pressure on and a wonderful offload from Keith Galloway sent Jamie Jones-Buchanan powering over.
Galloway has come in for some criticism after a slow start to his Leeds career, but he led from the front last night in easily his best performance so far.
Referee Ben Thaler indicated a try and video assistant Richard Silverwood agreed. Owen hoofed his restart out on the full and Leeds scored again in the resulting set, Adam Cuthbertson diving through from acting-half Falloon’s pass.
Zak Hardaker made a break moments later but his pass could not find Ryan Hall. Leeds though did increase their lead when Jordan Turner’s pass towards Alex Walmsley went to ground, Kyle Amor put a boot to it and the kick went straight to Liam Sutcliffe, who showed impressive pace in a sprint to the line.
He had converted the first two tries, but hit a post this time and Saints were back in the game before the end of the opening quarter.
A penalty for obstruction ended a promising attack, then Galloway went high on Amor. Walsh’s kick was well taken by Brett Ferres, but he was trapped in goal to concede a drop out.
From that, Amor went over off a short pass from the No 7, who also converted.
That was on 17 minutes and four minutes later Saints scored again on another penalty set, after Kallum Watkins had lost the ball.
Walsh dummied over from Jon Wilkin’s pass and also added the extras.
Leeds got over the line again almost immediately on a free play, but Ferres’ pass to Hall was forward and Atelea Vea crossed at the other end, but knocked-on beforehand.
Saints had most of the play after going 16-0 down and their high kicking game caused Leeds serious problems.
Four minutes from half-time a Walsh kick was batted dead by Hall and from the drop out McCarthy-Scarsbrook ran a great line on to a pass from Walsh, whose conversion made 18-16.
Just before that Rhinos had been pressing, but their attack broke down when Hardaker lost the ball in a big hit by Dominique Peyroux, which was belatedly placed on report. There was also a suspicion the centre had knocked-on and a clear forward pass after that.
Out of the blue, Rhinos rallied to lead at the interval, Burrow’s pass finding Ablett, who shrugged off some poor defence to cross behind the posts.
Sutcliffe’s conversion made it 22-18 at the end of a breathless, see-sawing first half.
The early stages of the second produced a remarkable passage of play, beginning when Owens dashed clear from his own line, only for Handley to chase back and save what seemed a certain try.
Brilliant scrambling defence kept Luke Thompson and Walsh out before Saints lost possession and Ablett sent Watkins on the counter. This time Saints’ Matty Dawson made a brilliant tackle.
Rhinos eventually extended their advantage on 55 minutes, after Galloway, Cuthbertson and Ferres had been involved in the build-up, Falloon jinking through a kick which Handley touched down.
Sutcliffe’s goal made it 28-18 and then he added a penalty goal to complete the scoring after Saints were caught offside.
There was a late scare when Wilkin broke up the middle and Shannon McDonnell was in support, but Hardaker and Ferres somehow kept him out.
McCarthy-Scarsbrook was sin-binned for a professional foul in the final minutes.
The penalty count finished 9-7 to Leeds (4-3 in Saints’ favour in the first half).