Leeds Rhinos: Handley hat-trick keeps Leeds on top

Kallum Watkins
Kallum Watkins
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Why not tell us what you thought of Leeds Rhinos’s performance last night?

The 19-year-old scored his second senior hat-trick last night – and both have come against the defending Super League champions.

More importantly, Leeds’ 46-18 victory completed a league double and moved them three points clear of second-placed Saints and four ahead of Wigan Warriors, who they play next week.

Top spot at the end of the regular rounds is Leeds’ to lose now and they seem to be returning to form at just the right time.

It wasn’t the prettiest of performances, but Leeds were spirited, tough in the tackle and scored some fine tries.

The platform was set in a bizarre opening quarter. Saints dropped the ball on the first carry from the kick-off and took 20 minutes to recover, by which time they were 18-0 down.

Leeds made their own share of errors at the start of the game, but the visitors continually gave them the ball back near Saints’ line and Rhinos made them pay three times.

It was more even after that, but a try on the stroke of half-time sent Rhinos in at the break with a 22-0 lead.

That was the same gap as in April’s fixture at Langtree Park, when Leeds were 28-6 up at half-time.

Saints cut the gap soon after the interval and Leeds looked like they might be in for a tough final half an hour when Zak Hardaker was sin-binned, but they scored two tries when a man down and then finished strongly with 14 points in the final 10 minutes.

The downside of a good night for Leeds was the loss of Stevie Ward after only eight minutes – as their first try was being scored.

Ward, who has been in outstanding form this year, was hurt in back-play. He was helped off in obvious pain from an ankle injury and did not return.

Rhinos gave a debut to new Aussie signing Mitch Garbutt and, while not match fit, he contributed a couple of strong spells off the bench.

Danny McGuire was back in the team after an ankle injury, at scrum-half in the only change to the starting line-up from the win at Hull in Rhinos’ previous game.

Adam Cuthbertson was also back after a one-match lay-off, with a calf problem. He began the game on the bench, in place of Brad Singleton.

That was tough on Singleton, who had been ever-present before last night, but the rest shouldn’t do him any harm. Andy Yates and Robbie Ward were the other two players who dropped out.

On eight minutes Saints gave possession away again, Paul Aiton intercepting Mark Percival’s pass. He didn’t have the legs to go all the way to the line, but held on to the ball and from that field position Kallum Watkins crashed over at the corner.

Three minutes later Matty Dawson knocked on at a play-the-ball and following the scrum Jamie Peacock drove the ball in, Aiton switched play from acting-half and Kylie Leuluai stormed over from close range.

That was a sweet way for the former Samoan international to mark his 250th appearance for Leeds and he drove the ball in powerfully in the build-up to Rhinos’ next try.

Saints’ re-start sailed out on the full and in the set from the penalty Ryan Hall held off Dawson to cross out wide, after Brett Delaney and Kevin Sinfield had handled and McGuire whipped out a long pass.

Leeds thought they had scored again on 23 when Hardaker’s huge kick bounced away from the defence, was collected by Jimmy Keinhorst and he seemed to touch down.

Referee Richard Silverwood handed the decision on – as no try – and replays showed Adam Swift had knocked the ball out of Keinhorst’s grasp, though play was started with a 20-metre tap.

He didn’t get the ball down, but it was a pity because it would have been one of the tries of the season. Saints then got a scrum from a knock-on by Handley and three successive penalties.

Eventually Alex Walmsley lost the ball backwards and James Roby gathered to scamper over. Silverwood again asked for help, indicating no try and again the touchdown was ruled out, Roby having knocked-on.

Three minutes before the break Percival couldn’t deal with an attacking kick from Joel Moon and Leeds moved the ball wide from the scrum, but Hall spilled Hardaker’s pass a few metres out, his second such error.

That looked like a golden opportunity wasted, but moments later Handley and Watkins played a one-two which took Rhinos close to the Saints line, before Carl Ablett picked out the young winger with a pass and Handley brushed off Jordan Turner to touchdown at the corner.

Again, Silverwood said no try, but replays showed the young winger had got the ball down with finger-tip control. At the start of the second half Leeds were penalised for offside and at the end of the resulting set hall failed to take Luke Walsh’s kick, the ball went loose and Josh Jones touched down.

Presumably Silverwood has to ask his dining partner to order for him in restaurants.

This time, by way of a change, he indicated a try and the video refs agreed.

Percival converted and Leeds were reduced to 12 men on 30 minutes following a dangerous tackle by Hardaker on Travis Burns. Silverwood initially produced his red card, before swapping it for yellow.

That was fair enough, though it was a clumsy challenge rather than anything malicious.

Rhinos rode the blow by scoring next, on 53, in the set from a drop out. It was a tremendous finish from Ablett, getting past Walsh and holding off a couple of defenders.

The video referees gave the green light and Handley’s second try came in the set from the re-start. Kallum Watkins ran across field, burst up the right flank and found McGuire in support.

He offloaded out of Luke Walsh’s tackle and Handley was backing up to cross for his second of the game.

But Watkins then dropped the ball from the re-start and Saints exploited the extra man from the scrum for Turner to score a try which Percival improved. With 15 minutes left Roby’s kick hit a post and Amor followed up to score, Percival again adding the extras.

That made it 32-18, but then Rob Burrow and Sinfield teed Handley up and pace and footwork did the rest.

McGuire’s cut-out pass was finished by Hall for his second touchdown and on the stroke of time Sinfield landed a penalty, his seventh goal, to complete the scoring.

The penalty count finished 6-5 in Rhinos’ favour (3-3 in the first half).