LEEDS RHINOS made it two wins from two with an 18-12 success over Warrington Wolves in an entertaining clash at Headingley Carnegie.
Rhinos led 18-6 with three minutes left, but a late Warrington try set up a grandstand finish and the hosts were relieved to hear the final hooter in a game they controlled for the most part.
Leeds led 12-6 at the break after dominating most of the first half.
Warrington had two attacks, one which produced an early try and then another to force a drop out just before the break, but they spent the rest of the time defending.
They did it very well and less resilient teams would have conceded more than two tries, though Rhinos’ decision-making on attack was a bit off and they had two claimed touchdowns ruled out – correctly – by the video referees.
The question at the break was whether Leeds would rue their missed chances or if all the defending Wolves had to do would catch up with them late on.
In the end, neither happened. Warrington had much more ball and possession, but Leeds’ defence stood up strongly, until one late lapse.
Rhinos were under enormous pressure early, following a Chris Clarkson knock-on, penalty, Sinfield kick which was charged down – Jamie Peacock didn’t fall on it, thinking he was offside and Wire gathered – and a fumble on their own line which led to a drop out.
It looked like they had survived, but on the final tackle from the drop out Richie Myler cross-kicked to Joel Monaghan, who jumped above Ryan Hall, juggled and touched down for the opening try, which was converted by Stefan Ratchford on 10 minutes.
Leeds’ first chance came moments later through a break by Kallum Watkins, who was outstanding in his 100th senior appearance.
Tom Briscoe was blazing up in support, but Watkins backed himself and was nailed by Ratchford.
Watkins was involved in Leeds’ opening try, on 21.
Rob Burrow, Zak Hardaker and Watkins worked the ball to Briscoe, who kicked ahead and Hardaker made a nice pick up to go over, with Kevin Sinfield adding the extras.
The try came moments after Stevie Ward had been introduced off the bench for his first game – competitive or otherwise – since suffering a dislocated shoulder last April.
Ward played 46 minutes in two spells and looked sharp.
He put himself about, tested his shoulder and showed no fear.
Ward replaced Liam Sutcliffe in Rhinos’ only personnel change from the team which won at Hull KR five days earlier.
Kylie Leuluai started this time, swapping places with Brad Singleton, who was on the bench.
It was a big night for former Featherstone Rovers forward Anthony England, who made his Super League debut as one of Warrington’s substitutes.
Rhinos should have gone in front moments later.
Hardaker’s surging run took him close to the line and a pass would have put Briscoe in, but he held on and the chance was missed.
That was a rare blunder by the full-back, who was superb in defence and attack and has begun the year in excellent form.
Joel Monaghan is a phenomenal try scorer, but he showed his defensive qualities with a brilliant tackle to slide Hall into touch just short of the line from Joel Moon’s pass.
Referee Ben Thaler went to the screen and video referees Ian Smith and Steve Ganson – why on earth does it take two of them – ruled no try.
That came during a spell when Warrington turned the ball over several times deep in their own territory, with Leeds-born Ryan Atkins being the main culprit, but despite this spell Rhinos failed to make the pressure count.
A second video ref call went against them on 28 minutes when McGuire grubbered over the line and Hardaker seemed to have dived on the ball, but he didn’t ground it and the ruling was “no try”.
Atkins redeemed himself with a try-saving tackle on Watkins – one example of some fantastic Warrington defence under massive pressure – and then Danny McGuire’s pass seemed to have created an overlap, but sailed past Watkins and Briscoe into touch.
After all that pressure close to the visitors’ line, Rhinos finally hit the front four minutes before the break with a try from long range.
It was a beauty.
Hardaker found Briscoe with a magnificent flat pass in centre field, which created a gap and sent the winger tearing into space.
Briscoe rounded full-back Ratchford and held off Ben Currie to complete a brilliant 70-metre move and Sinfield’s goal ended the first half scoring.
The second half was much more even, after Carl Ablett and Watkins had gone close in the opening moments.
This time it was Leeds who couldn’t hang on to the ball in their own half and they only survived a knock-on by Ryan Bailey thanks to a remarkable tackle by Hardaker, who somehow managed to lift Ratchford and force him back when the full-back seemed to be over the line.
It was a thin line between a level game and Rhinos being two scores clear.
On 56 minutes – four after his try-saving tackle – Hardaker accepted Ward’s pass on the final tackle, stepped off his left foot and powered straight over the top of Myler for his second try, which Sinfield improved.
Watkins’ pass into touch began a huge spell of Warrington pressure, which was resisted by outstanding goal line defence, most particularly when Peacock and Kylie Leuluai held Chris Hill up over the line.
Sinfield limped off soon after agonisingly hitting a post with a drop goal attempt and Leeds’ previously rock solid defence crumbled in the 77th minute when Ben Westwood forced his way over and Ratchford converted.
Then Myler made a break and it looked like O’Brien would go over, but he was pulled down just short and Leeds held on in a frantic finish.
The penalty count finished 8-7 in Leeds’ favour (4-1 in the first half).
Sutcliffe, who was dropped last night, played instead for the under-19s at Hull KR and inspired a 60-12 victory, scoring two tries and setting up several others.
Ash Handley registered a hat-trick, Ben White touched down three times and kicked eight goals and Billy McDermott, Robby Ward and Tommy Brierley also crossed.