LEEDS RHINOS’ regular season ended on a dismal and alarming note with a 38-22 defeat at 12-man Salford Red Devils last night.
It was a shocking performance from Rhinos and if they don’t improve massively they will not only suffer a drubbing in next weekend’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final against Warrington Wolves, but will also be in real peril during the Qualifiers.
Leeds won only one of their final 11 Betfred Super League fixtures and that is relegation form. Rhinos had taken some steps forward in the past couple of games, but this was a stride backwards.
It was their worst performance of a very poor season. Torn apart by Salford stand-off Robert Lui, they were also out-enthused and the final margin was a fair reflection of the hosts’ superiority.
Leeds scored in their opening set, after less than two minutes, then conceded four tries to go 22-6 behind before Salford prop Lee Mossop was red-carded for butting Carl Ablett.
Rhinos pulled a converted try back, but conceded a poor touchdown on the final play of the half to go in 26-12 down.
That was bad enough, but the second half was worse. Leeds narrowed the gap late in the third quarter, but almost immediately conceded a try in typically shambolic fashion and never looked like pulling the game from the fire.
Rhinos were on top for a spell, but unfortunately for them it lasted only 70 seconds.
Salford spilled the ball in the first set 20 metres from their line and on the second play from the scrum Brad Dwyer barged over and Liam Sutcliffe converted.
Josh Jones’ powerful run soon afterwards was a warning for Leeds and then Dwyer sent a kick dead in goal and matters went rapidly downhill from there.
It was their worst performance of a very poor season. Torn apart by Salford stand-off Robert Lui, they were also out-enthused and the final margin was a fair reflection of the hosts’ superiority.Peter Smith
Ed Chamberlain split them up the middle and though Ashton Golding stood his ground to make the tackle the opportunity was taken when Ryan Lannon went over from Lui’s pass. Chamberlain missed the kick from just to the left of the posts.
He did better, from the same spot, moments later. Jones made a run from the restart, he put Jackson Hastings into a gap and the half-back, making his debut, sent Niall Evalds over.
It got worse on 15 minutes, after Tom Briscoe knocked on. Lui’s kick over the line on the last wasn’t dealt with and Hastings touched down for a soft try which Chamberlain improved.
Rhinos were lucky Hastings was injured soon afterwards. Even so they were penalised from the restart and Lui’s pass sent Chamberlain slicing through for a try which he converted from the touchline. That made it 22-6 after 18 minutes.
Salford knocked-on from the restart and in the aftermath of that Mossop threw his head at Ablett and was dismissed by referee Tom Grant. The penalty led to Leeds pulling a try back through Sutcliffe, who squeezed over from a pass by Matt Parcell before adding the extras.
Parcell injected some urgency off the bench as did Nathaniel Peteru. He came on after half an hour and almost immediately got over the line, but Tyrone McCarthy prevented him getting the ball down. He did the same later in the half, but this time Evalds held him up.
Rhinos forced a drop out in the same set, but Jimmy Keinhorst allowed Salford’s kick to bounce into touch. That was an example of their lack of smarts, as was an incident soon afterwards when Golding was trapped in possession on the last close to Salford’s line.
Rhinos took too many wrong options with ball in hand, but defensively they were all over the place. They conceded a penalty a minute from the interval, then had to survive one play with seven seconds left on the clock, but failed to shut down Lui and he was allowed to stroll over for an unconverted try to open a 14-point gap.
Rhinos pressed at the start of the second half, but Ash Handley and Sutcliffe both knocked-on in good field position and Smith was forced back when he looked set to crash over.
Leeds finally pulled a try back with 25 minutes left when Tom Briscoe finished well at the corner following a break by Joel Moon.
That was unconverted, but gave Leeds some hope they didn’t deserve. However, they conceded a penalty soon afterwards and what happened next summed up their night.
Chamberlain failed with his kick at goal, Luke Briscoe picked up, but knocked on in contact and the ball was shifted left for Evalds to score a killer try which Chamberlain converted.
Then, with 11 minutes left, Jones touched down from Lui’s grubber and Chamberlain’s fifth goal made it 38-16 with 11 minutes left.
Leeds scored a consolation four minutes from time when Golding’s chip was hacked on by Moon for Parcell to cross, Sutcliffe adding the extras.
Admittedly they were under-strength – and a couple of injuries didn’t help – but the 17 on duty should have been good enough to beat a Salford side who went into the game in poor form.
It was a strange situation with nothing at stake on the table for either team – a case of none of the 80 minutes mattered – and Leeds’ side reflected that.
Jack Walker, Adam Cuthbertson and Mikolaj Oledzki – who warmed up as 18th man - were rested and Ryan Hall (shoulder) and Richie Myler (ankle) weren’t risked due to minor knocks. Golding returned at full-back, Keinhorst stepped up off the bench to start at centre and Sutcliffe switched to scrum-half.
Jordan Thompson, signed on Thursday from Leigh Centurions, made his debut in the second-row and Cameron Smith was recalled at loose-forward, with Josh Walters returning on the bench.
Also among the substitutes was Peteru, who had not played since suffering a biceps injury at the Magic Weekend two months ago.
He has suffered the same injury to both arms this season and it was only his fifth game since joining Rhinos from Gold Coast Titans in the closed-season.
Still missing were Kallum Watkins, Stevie Ward, Brett Delaney, Anthony Mullally and Brett Ferres.
Ablett hobbled off late in the first half and Mitch Garbutt also failed to feature in the second half, which is a concern with a semi-final eight days away.
The penalty count finished eight-five in Salford’s favour (four-two to Salford in the first half). Rookie ref Grant did a decent job.