The Verdict: Leeds Rhinos dig deep to reach a 10th Grand Final

Stevie Ward scores the Rhinos opening try.
Stevie Ward scores the Rhinos opening try.
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TWO OF the all-time greats will end their Leeds Rhinos career at Old Trafford.

Rhinos reached their 10th Grand Final thanks to a thrilling 18-16 win over Hull at Headingley last night.

Gareth Ellis and Danny Houghton hold Kallum Watkins

Gareth Ellis and Danny Houghton hold Kallum Watkins

It was Rob Burrow’s final game at Headingley and Danny McGuire’s last there as a Rhinos player and both will bow out against Castleford in the title decider a week today.

It was McGuire’s 450th career game. Leeds’ main concern was a late injury to Ward, who went off with what seemed to be a damaged shoulder. Rhinos’ win was also an appropriate farewell for the North Stand, which will now be demolished.

It may have been a poor season, but the two semi-finals have been belters.

Twenty four hours after Tigers’ golden-point win over St Helens it was another absorbing, nerve-shredding clash between two well-matched sides and it went down to the last play.

Anthony Mullally runs over for the Rhinos' second try.

Anthony Mullally runs over for the Rhinos' second try.

With seconds remaining Hull staged a desperate attack and Mahe Fonua tried to milk a penalty – which might have levelled the scores – but referee Phil Bentham said knock-on.

Rhinos battered Hull in the first 20 minutes and went 12-0 ahead, but the visitors rallied in the second quarter and halved the deficit by the break.

Leeds should have been further ahead and had more – and better – chances, but Hull showed great resolve to hang in and then get themselves firmly back into the contest.

That set the scene for a tense second half and the sides delivered. Hull went four points ahead and Leeds hit back to lead by two.

Gareth Ellis and Danny McGuire embrace at the end of the match.

Gareth Ellis and Danny McGuire embrace at the end of the match.

There were 17 minutes left when the hosts scored their third try and there was no further score.

It was Leeds’ fourth league win of the season against Hull, though they lost to them in a Challenge Cup semi-final.

Rhinos have been the second-best team this year, after Castleford and reaching Old Trafford is a remarkable turnaround after they featured in the Qualifiers last year.

In the early stages it looked like Hull might be overrun. Rhinos set off at a rapid pace and scored after just four minutes.

McGuire was hit late by Liam Watts after a kick. Direct from the penalty, which Leeds, tapped, Stevie Ward rampaged to the line – past Danny Houghton – and stretched over without his ball-carrying arm touching the deck.

Referee Bentham thought it was a double-movement, but asked video assistant Robert Hicks to check and he awarded the try, which Kallum Watkins converted.

Second-rower Ward was one of three players recalled by Rhinos, along with full-back Jack Walker and prop Brad Singleton, in place of Ashton Golding (who warmed up as 18th man), Jack Ormondroyd and hamstring casualty Brett Delaney.

Delaney and Keith Galloway were the only senior Leeds players unavailable due to injury.

Liam Sutcliffe stepped up off the bench into the left-centre, taking over from Jimmy Keinhorst who was dropped.

Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Adam Cuthbertson – substitutes in the win at Huddersfield – swapped places with Anthony Mullally and Carl Ablett. Ablett came on midway through the first half for his 300th Rhinos appearance.

A second Leeds penalty – for interference by Watts on Tom Briscoe – almost led to another try, but Watkins knocked on McGuire’s kick before Ward touched it down.

On 16 minutes McGuire and Parcell shoved Man of Steel nominee Albert Kelly back over Hull’s goalline and Singleton crossed following the drop out, but McGuire’s pass was forward.

There was no doubt a minute later. A knock-on by Watts handed the ball to Leeds and, after a good run by Joel Moon, McGuire evaded Sika Manu and Jake Connor on the final tackle and got a pass away to Mullally who romped over on his first touch after coming off the bench.

Watkins’ conversion made it 12-0. Hull didn’t get an opportunity to attack until four minutes into the second quarter when Marc Sneyd’s kick bounced off McGuire’s head into touch and referee Bentham gave the visitors the feed at the scrum.

They then received a penalty, awarded against Mullally and following it, Kelly crossed off a one-two with Mark Minichiello, but he was held up by some desperate defence from Walker and Watkins.

The onfield decision was no try and Hicks backed that up, but Hull scored soon afterwards following a penalty against McGuire for a high tackle on Minichiello. Gareth Ellis stormed over from close range off Houghton’s pass and Sneyd added the extras.

Hull did most of the pressing after that, but Leeds kept them at bay, McGuire falling well short with a drop goal attempt after the hooter.

Ablett had to make a desperate tackle on Minichello at the start of the second half after the second-rower’s high tackle on Ellis. On the final play Sneyd’s cross kick went off Ryan Hall into touch and following the scrum Fonua got over at the corner from the impressive Connor’s pass after Kelly had also handled.

Sneyd could not convert from wide out and that was the difference in the end.

Mitch Garbutt intercepted near his own line and offloaded to Walker, who raced clear, but Ellis – playing what turned out to be the final game of his career – did well to close him down.

The attack led to a drop out and following that – and some excellent handling by McGuire, Ward, Cuthbertson and Moon – Singleton charged over the line from 20 metres out.

It was an outstanding run by the young prop, but Bentham said no try. After checking for an obstruction, Hicks spent an age trying to decide if the ball was grounded.

It was impossible to tell so the original decision stood – Jamie Shaul, Kelly and Fonua having held the Leeds man up.

Within seconds Hull were ahead. Griffin defused a kick in-goal and at the end of the set Sneyd’s kick was flicked by Connor to Manu, who went over and narrowed the angle to make Sneyd’s conversion a formality.

From 12 points down, Hull were four ahead with 24 minutes remaining, but Leeds hit back quickly and in style.

Singleton had a huge game and his offload began the move, sending Ryan Hall away. Sutcliffe was in support and should have been hemmed in, but turned Kelly and Shaul inside out on an outstanding run to the line. That levelled the scores and Watkins nailed the difficult conversion.

With 13 minutes left Connor claimed a try from Sneyd’s kick, but Bentham and Hicks agreed he had knocked on first and Leeds held on.

There were just five penalties in the first half, two to Leeds and the rest in succession for the visitors.