LEEDS RHINOS have had some memorable wins in Super League and last night’s remarkable 28-20 success at previously unbeaten leaders St Helens was up there with the best of them.
Leeds were without eight players through injury and lost two more during the game, but produced a defensive performance of astonishing grit and determination.
They trailed twice, but refused to throw in the towel and – for the first time this year – were clinical with the ball.
Ash Handley would not be in the side if everyone was fit, but he has a habit of scoring tries against Saints and he delivered the goods with a second half brace.
There was nothing between the teams on the scoreboard at half-time, though Leeds were under the cosh for most of the opening period.
They defended strongly and took the limited chances which came their way. Saints went ahead early in the second half, but Leeds scored two quick tries to open an eight-point gap.
Saints hit back with a stunning long-range try, but Rhinos sealed it moments later when Matt Parcell stretched over and Myler’s conversion completed the scoring.
It’s hard to pick out individuals because Leeds were so good as a team, but Carl Ablett and Brad Singleton were immense and Myler, Joel Moon, Kallum Watkins and Tom Briscoe all had a huge bearing on a superb result for the champions.
Rhinos’ starting line-up was strong, considering the number of players on their injury list.
The only change to the 13 who started against Hull last week was Anthony Mullally’s inclusion at prop in place of knee injury victim Mitch Garbutt.
It was a lightweight bench though, including three academy-qualified players. Mikolaj Oledzki – after back-to-back appearances on dual-registration for Featherstone Rovers – and Cameron Smith were both called up for the second time this season.
Jack Walker spent 80 minutes on the bench last week and five this time. He came on early after Ashton Golding was hurt in a high tackle by Zeb Taia. It was initially a head assessment, but the full-back did not return.
Jack Ormondroyd was dropped and Leeds were without eight members of their first team squad, with Liam Sutcliffe (foot), Adam Cuthbertson (broken hand), Stevie Ward (calf muscle), Brad Dwyer (ribs), Jimmy Keinhorst (knee), Brett Ferres (knee), Nathaniel Peteru (biceps) and Alex Sutcliffe (shoulder surgery) all unavailable.
Early on it looked like Leeds might get blown away. Saints went close through Jonny Lomax in the opening minutes, but two penalties – either side of a drop-out – allowed Leeds to apply some pressure.
They could have taken two from the second, but didn’t and it took some strong Saints defence to keep Singleton and Watkins out.
On the counter Saints seemed to have opened up Rhinos’ defence on the hosts’ left side as Mark Percival raced away, but Taia was penalised for obstruction and then marched 10 metres when he questioned the decision.
Leeds scored in the resulting set, after nine minutes. Saints have the competition’s best defence this year, but they couldn’t get to grips with Mullally who showed remarkable strength to force his way over from a few metres out, Watkins adding the extras.
The lead lasted eight minutes. Walker did really well to pick up a dangerous low kick from Jon Wilkin almost on Leeds’ line, but then Matt Parcell turned the ball over to Lomax and Saints made the opportunity count as Danny Richardson and Lomax worked the ball left to Ben Barba and the in-form full-back finished strongly at the corner. Richardson added the icing with a touchline conversion.
Barba almost scored again soon afterwards in the same spot, from Richardson’s pass, but Walker and Watkins did incredibly well to hold him up over the line.
Richardson then kicked across field and Tommy Makinson got above Ryan Hall, but knocked on as he tried to touchdown, video referee Robert Hicks backing up James Child’s onfield decision of no try.
Leeds were hanging on so Saints’ decision to take the two from a penalty in front of the posts, after a ball steal by Oledzki, was a surprise and tribute to Leeds’ defence.
But they scored their second try in the set from the restart. It was a brilliantly improvised score. Hall couldn’t take Richardson’s high kick, which was batted back by Adam Swift to Richardson.
He turned the ball inside to Tommy Makinson and hios final pass was finished off by Swift. Hicks gave the green light – though there was no doubt – but it was unconverted.
Rhinos hadn’t been able to get on the front foot since their early try, but they squared the scores with a wonderful try.
A strong run by Hall got them going forward, then Joel Moon’s pass to Tom Briscoe split the defence and with support on either side he sent Richie Myler over for the scum-half’s first Leeds try, which Watkins improved.
Saints weren’t happy as referee Child allowed play to continue while Makinson was on the grounded receiving treatment to a head injury.
In the closing moments of the half Mullally was penalised in possession to give Saints a last opportunity, but a knock-on by Theo Fages kept Rhinos’ line intact.
It stayed that way until the 54th minutes. Saints again did most of the pressing, but the Briscoe-Watkins axis on Leeds’ right gave the hosts’ defence something to think about on a couple of occasions.
Leeds were coming out of their end when Josh Walters was penalised for moving off the mark and Richardson kicked Saints back in front.
Rhinos levelled again, on the hour, through a Watkins penalty goal after interference on Carl Ablett close to the line just to the right of the posts.
Remarkably, the visitors were in front a couple of minutes later. Myler chipped a kick to Leeds’ left, Richardson got nowhere near it and the ball was picked up by Ash Handley, though Watkins could not convert.
There was a huge moment soon after that when Parcell raced clear with Watkins and Myler in support. He turned the ball inside and the scrum-half was tackled.
Then Watkins almost got over, but was denied by a sensational tackle from Regan Grace, Barba and Lomax. The captain was hurt and had to leave the field.
On the next play a poor pass by Briscoe was retrieved by Singleton. He got the ball to Moon and the stand-off jinked inside and grubbered ahead, Handley gathering to touch down again.
Myler could not land the extras and Leeds had some pressure after that, but could not find a way through and Saints got back into it with a stunning long-range try, Grace scorching clear and Barba supporting to score.
Richardson converted, but Taia knocked on from the restart and Parcell stretched over from acting-half, Myler adding the extras.
Leeds received the first five penalties and Saints got the next seven. The count finished 8-7 to Rhinos – 5-3 in their favour in the first half.
York City Knights’ tie against Swinton Lions tomorrow (3pm) has been switched to Featherstone because the pitch at Bootham Crescent is waterlogged.