LAST NIGHT’S game was one to forget for most of the 15,247 crowd at Headingley Carnegie, but provided what’s likely to be an everlasting memory for youngster Robbie Ward.
The 18-year-old academy player received the biggest cheer of the night when he touched down Leeds Rhinos’ final try in their 20-6 win over Hull.
After making do at hooker for the three previous games – with both Paul Aiton and Rob Burrow on the casualty list – Rhinos boss Brian McDermott dipped into the under-19s to give Ward his shot, just a week after he had played for England academy in a one-off Test against France at Castleford.
Ward – no relation to his team-mate Stevie Ward – only ran from dummy-half once, but did a decent job distributing from acting-half and was in the right place to profit from a Hull error on their own line.
He was replaced on 29 minutes, when Kevin Sinfield took over the hooking role and returned for the final 16.
While Ward now has something to tell future grandkids about, for everybody else in the ground the final hooter could not come soon enough.
An incredible deluge in the hour before kick-off made both the ground and ball slippery and that made things difficult for both sets of players.
At least that is the kind explanation for an unusually high number of handling errors which marred the first half in particular.
Rhinos led 6-0 at the break – thanks to a very scrappy try – and that was probably a fair reflection of an opening period in which defences were well on top against two mis-firing attacks.
Another untidy touchdown doubled their lead in the third quarter and they made the game safe with a penalty goal before Ward’s magic moment eight minutes from time.
Leeds were comfortably the better team without ever really hitting their stride on attack.
Defensively, one early break apart, they were very strong against a Hull side who threw almost nothing at them and were 63 seconds away from being nilled.
The win got them back on track after the loss to Wigan Warriors a week ago and also keeps them top of the First Utility Super League table.
Leeds’ side showed several changes from the one beaten by Wigan.
Tom Briscoe returned on the wing to face his former club for the first time, alongside Kallum Watkins who was back in the team following illness. Ben Jones-Bishop was left out and Liam Sutcliffe dropped to the bench.
With Jamie Peacock out due to a leg injury, Brad Singleton stepped up off the bench to start at prop.
Chris Clarkson moved from hooker to loose-forward, so Brett Delaney was among the substitutes, but Ryan Bailey missed out.
Briscoe, booed by the Hull fans, made an early contribution with a fine tackle to hold up Gareth Ellis – making his first appearance at Headingley since leaving Leeds at the end of 2008 – over the line after Liam Watts had made a clean break but been nailed by Zak Hardaker.
Briscoe didn’t have the best of evenings. He had no try scoring opportunities and made a couple of handling errors before suffering a dislocated finger late in the match, though he played on to the end.
That was the only real moment of excitement in the opening quarter, though Danny McGuire almost weaved his way over at the other end and Rhinos did use the conditions to force three early drop-outs.
Nothing came of any of them, but Leeds did find a way through after 23 minutes. On the final tackle McGuire’s pass found Ryan Hall, who was wrapped up by Liam, Colbon and Fetuli Talanoa, but dropped the ball backwards giving Joel Moon the easy task of picking up and scooting over.
Kevin Sinfield landed a tremendous touchline goal, but that completed the scoring before the break.
The only other incidents worthy of note were a tremendous run by Watkins, which ended when he knocked-on and some good work by Hardaker to halt Kirk Yeaman as he counter-attacked from Watkins’ kick close to the Hull line.
Rhinos’ second try, 15 minutes into the first half, was just as messy as the first. Stevie Ward and Mitch Achurch – who had a strong game – both had good runs before McGuire put in a grubber which hit a post, rebounded in goal and was touched down by a diving Singleton, with full-back Jamie Shaul caught out of position after he collided with an upright as he chased the kick.
Sinfield added the extras from in front to make it 12-0, but missed with a relatively straight-forward penalty attempt nine minutes later, after interference by Setaimata Sa on Hardaker, who continued his fine form and was probably Rhinos’ most lively attacking threat.
Three minutes later Rhinos received another penalty in kicking range – after interference on Sutcliffe – and this time Sinfield potted the goal to leave Hull needing to score three times.
Considering they hadn’t mounted a serious attack since the break that didn’t seem very likely, though Leeds out the game completely out of their reach on 72.
It was the third scrappy touchdown of the game, Yeaman making an awful hash of dealing with McGuire’s kick on the Hull line, which allowed a rather surprised Robbie Ward to pick up and go over.
Sinfield converted and it looked as thought Leeds would complete their first clean sheet of the season, but with time running out McGuire couldn’t field a kick on the last, Hull regathered and full-back Shaul went over for their only try after Jordan Thompson, Colbon and Talano had handled.
Joe Westerman converted as the hooter sounded.
Hull also fielded a young debutant, 17-year-old winger Callum Lancaster.
Former Catalan Dragons player Sa also made his first appearance, off the bench after being recruited from union outfit London Irish during the week.
Referee James Child awarded just one penalty in the first half, to Hull when Leeds were spotted not standing square.
The second half count was five-two in Leeds’ favour.
Meanwhile, winger Ash Handley scored four tries in Rhinos under-19s’ 26-22 win over their Hull counterparts.
Full-back Ashton Golding got the other touchdown and Joe Sanderson landed three goals.
Rhinos under-19s half-back Ben White has joined Kingstone Press Championship One side University of Gloucestershire All Golds on loan.