Peter Smith’s verdict: Late rally gets Leeds Rhinos out of jail

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A LATE rally spared Leeds Rhinos’ blushes, but they had to settle for a point in a thriller at Huddersfield Giants.

The 22-22 stalemate was Rhinos’ first since a 24-24 result at the same ground three years ago, but from Leeds’ point of view – though they trailed 12-0 and 22-16 – it was a win wasted.

Giants were second from bottom in the table, missing a host of key players and had lost five of their previous seven Betfred Super League games this year.

With caretaker-coach Chris Thorman in charge for the first time following Rick Stone’s sacking on Tuesday, they came up with a remarkable performance.

Both teams were well short of full-strength, but Giants played above themselves and were four minutes away from a famous win.

For much of the game it seemed like a matter of time before they crumbled and when Leeds went in front in the third quarter they should have taken control, but Rhinos were never able to get a firm grip.

Ash Handley touches down late on.  Picture Tony Johnson.

Ash Handley touches down late on. Picture Tony Johnson.

Huddersfield rallied to take a six-point lead with eight minutes to go, only for the in-form Ash Handley to revive Rhinos with his sixth try in three games.

Kallum Watkins added the conversion and both teams missed with last-gasp drop goal attempts.

It was a rollercoaster encounter. Rhinos got off to the worst possible start, conceding a converted try after three minutes and Huddersfield doubled their lead towards the end of the opening quarter Though Leeds pulled six points back, the hosts went in at half-time 14-6 ahead. Rhinos were still well in it, but they needed to up their game against opponents who had been enthusiastic, moved the ball well at times and worked hard for each other in defence.

The visitors did that at the start of the second half and pulled four points back almost immediately, then went ahead 12 minutes after the break.

The 22-22 stalemate was Rhinos’ first since a 24-24 result at the same ground three years ago, but from Leeds’ point of view – though they trailed 12-0 and 22-16 – it was a win wasted.

Peter Smith

But they couldn’t sustain that, turning possession over too cheaply and letting Huddersfield off the hook.

Giants adopted spoiling tactics in the second half, slowing the game down and it worked for them.

They regained the lead early in the final quarter and seemed to have done enough, until Handley’s late magic.

Leeds scored four touchdowns to three – the second successive game they have run in more tries than their opponents and failed to win – but Huddersfield were full value for their point.

Kallum Watkins scores Leeds Rhinos' first try.  Picture Tony Johnson.

Kallum Watkins scores Leeds Rhinos' first try. Picture Tony Johnson.

A Leeds error – on their first possession – led to the opening try. Jack Walker took Danny Brough’s high kick, but lost the ball in contact and Jared Simpson – recently recalled from loan at Dewsbury Rams – scored from Jordan Turner’s pass on the free play.

Brough landed a touchline conversion, the first of five goals from as many attempts. Walker, a substitute last week, started at full-back for the first time since the World Club Challenge more than a month ago, swapping places with Ashton Golding, who came on to replace Brad Dwyer at acting-half.

Dwyer returned for Rhinos, after three games on the sidelines, to make his first start for the club. Matt Parcell was carrying a knock and not risked, but is expected to be available for Monday’s visit of Salford Red Devils.

Brett Ferres made his first appearance since last year’s Grand Final, replacing Josh Walters on the bench.

Liam Sutcliffe (foot), Adam Cuthbertson (hand), Stevie Ward (calf), Mitch Garbutt (knee), Jimmy Keinhorst (knee) and Nathaniel Peteru (biceps) remained on the casualty list, but Giants had similar problems, missing Jermaine McGillvary, Lee Gaskell, Sam Wood, Dale Ferguson, Kruise Leeming, Jake Mamo, Leroy Cudjoe and Tom Symonds.

Leeds could have been level within six minutes. Brad Singleton, Richie Myler and Joel Moon worked the ball to Handley and he made a strong run and turned the ball inside to Myler, but the scrum-half dropped the pass a few metres out.

Brian McDermott shows his frustration on the sidelines. Picture Tony Johnson.

Brian McDermott shows his frustration on the sidelines. Picture Tony Johnson.

On 17 minutes Handley was penalised for tackling Darnell McIntosh in the air after the full-back collected Myler’s kick. Giants had got no go-forward since their try, but made their second opportunity count.

The move seemed to have broken down, but McIntosh retrieved a loose pass and supplied Turner and he again provided the final ball for Simpson. Brough landed another touchline goal, but Rhinos responded quickly. Myler tackled Louis Senior, Giants’ 18-year-old winger making his Super League debut, into touch a few metres out.

In the set from the scrum Kallum Watkins ran a nice line on to Myler’s pass and the captain also added the extras to half the deficit. Rather than demoralising Giants, the Leeds try seemed to give them a second wind and they had the better of things until the break, though they only managed two more points. They came from a Brough penalty goal after a high tackle by Mikolaj Oledzki on Simpson.

Rhinos made a fast start to the second half, scoring after four minutes through Ryan Hall. He made a wonderful break from inside Leeds’ half, but was halted by Sam Hewitt, a 19-year-old who came off the bench for his Giants debut.

He prevented a quick play-the-ball and should have been sin-binned for a professional foul, but referee Jack Smith awarded only a penalty. From it, fast hands by Myler, Moon, Walker and Handley moved the ball left and Hall finished powerfully at the corner, too far out for Watkins to convert.

It was a similar story eight minutes later. A brilliant run by Briscoe was closed down a metre or so out, again Giants took too long to let go and were penalised.

That could also have been a sin-binning, but wasn’t and Leeds scored in the next set. Handley is turning into a quality centre and he displayed excellent footwork to get past the last man after being set up by Myler, who received the ball from Moon.

Handley also had the presence of mind to narrow the angle to edge Leeds two points ahead with 28 minutes left. Leeds should have been able to go on with the job then, but Giants refused to throw in the towel and went back in front with 16 minutes left, Adam O’Brien squeezing over from acting-half after Ryan Hinchcliffe had gone close.

Brough added the extras to make it 20-16 and when he booted a penalty with eight minutes left it looked like the game was up.

Leeds found some urgency and Handley cut through for his second try - his third successive brace - from Moon’s reverse pass.

Referee Smith delayed the conversion as Watkins was about to strike the ball, due to a Giants player moving behind the line, but again kept his card in his pocket.

The goal went over, but Ferres knocked on in the next and that set up a drop goal attempt for Jordan Rankin, who sent his kick wide in the final minute. That gave Leeds a final opportunity, but Myler also failed to find the target.

The 10 penalties were shared. The count was three-two in Giants’ favour in the first half).