LEEDS RHINOS’ four-game winning run came to a predictable end last night when they were beaten 25-14 at Warrington Wolves.
Bottom of the table defeating second would normally be a shock, but not in this case. Leeds haven’t won at HJ Stadium since the 2011 play-offs and last year’s league leaders were bound to come good and record their first victory at some stage.
It was only four tries to three, but Warrington were the better team. Leeds dropped well below their recent standards, but some crucial factors went against them.
They lost a player to foul play after one minute, were hammered in the penalty count for a time after that – though it swung massively the other way later – and one of the tries they conceded was dubious.
At 18-4 early in the second half it looked like Warrington might pull away, but Rhinos mounted a strong two-try fightback and looked capable of snatching the game from the fire before the hosts’ fourth try left them with too much to do.
The game got off to an explosive start when Liam Sutcliffe was clotheslined by Ben Westwood after a kick at the end of Leeds’ first set.
Referee James Child didn’t see it, but a touch judge came on and Westwood was sin-binned. It looked like a bad one, so – in light of recent punishments – it will be interesting to see how the match review panel and then, presumably, disciplinary view it.
Sutcliffe had to be helped from the field, concussed and did not return, so Rhinos were reduced to 16 players for 79 minutes.
Child was the same referee who took no action against Brad Singleton for an elbow on Greg Bird which led to a six-game ban.
Brett Ferres was only sin-binned after his dangerous contact on Wigan’s Oliver Gildart a week earlier so Leeds aren’t in a position to complain about the injustice of last night’s situation, but questions have to be asked about how match officials handle serious foul play.
Ironically, Sutcliffe started in the second-row in place of Ferres, who was beginning his six-match suspension.
Rob Burrow was at hooker with Matt Parcell dropping to the bench for the first time in his Leeds career.
Josh Walters was recalled from his dual-registration spell with Featherstone Rovers and came in among the substitutes.
Leeds went ahead off the penalty. McGuire went blind from acting-half, Kallum Watkins shipped the ball on and Tom Briscoe displayed remarkable strength to touch down at the corner.
In the set after the try Joel Moon’s kick was helped into touch near Warrington’s line by Stefan Ratchford.
Leeds went close to scoring from the scrum, but Adam Cuthbertson spilled Jimmy Keinhorst’s pass.
That sparked a bout of pushing and shoving and Ashton Sims, the Warrington prop, was placed on report.
The next six penalties went to Warrington and Leeds were placed on a team warning. That meant Rhinos had very little ball or good field position after their bright start and when they did get it, they turned it over cheaply.
After all the effort invested in turning things around last month, Rhinos looked lethargic.
Warrington had more energy and the greater desire, it appeared. Leeds’ defence was strong, but they were vulnerable to Warrington’s kicks – particularly to Rhinos’ right-flank – and Declan Patton, Kurt Gidley and Ryan Atkins combined to great effect to send the hosts in at the break eight points ahead.
Back-to-back penalties led to Warrington going in front on 15 minutes when Tom Lineham palmed Patton’s kick back to Atkins. Patton converted from wide out.
Atkins, who had knocked on earlier trying to barge over from close-range, scored again on 30 minutes from Gidley’s kick and again Patton – who was recalled in place of the injured Kevin Brown – turned four into six.
Child awarded the try without checking with video assistant Robert Hicks, but replays on the big screen suggested he had dropped the ball.
Moments later it seemed Atkins had completed his hat-trick from another kick, by Patton. Child reckoned it was a try, but this time asked for a second opinion. Fortunately as it turned out, because Hicks spotted that Briscoe had grounded the ball first.
Four minutes into the second half Moon’s forward pass gave Warrington an opportunity in their own half and Gidley, Patton and Westwood linked to send Lineham in.
Patton’s kick went in off a post, but Leeds showed commendable fight after that and cut the gap when Parcell stretched over from close range, though Ashton Golding’s conversion attempt was again off-target. Other than his place kicking, Golding had another big game, despite a nasty bang to a shoulder and Parcell was also a stand-out, That was on 54 minutes and eight later, after successive penalties, Moon went over for a fine try off great work by Cuthbertson and Brett Delaney. Watkins’ conversion cut the gap to four points. Leeds were on top at that stage, but Gidley weaved over for a solo try with 12 minutes left and Patton’s fourth goal gave Warrington breathing space.
He completed the scoring with a drop goal in the final minute.
The first half penalty count was six-three in Warrington’s favour. Remarkably – after being six-one when Leeds were placed on the team warning – it finished eight-seven to the visitors.
Apart from not taking stronger action on Westwood, or checking with the video referee for a knock-on for Atkins’ second try and thinking the same player had scored moments later when he hadn’t, Child had a decent game.
Jordan Baldwinson and Mikolaj Oledzki, who were in Rhinos’ initial 19-man squad for last night are set to play for Featherstone against London Broncos in the Kingstone Press Championship tomorrow.
It will be Oledzki’s Rovers debut, though he had a loan spell at Bradford Bulls earlier in the year.
With three games coming up in eight days, beginning at Hull on Friday, Rhinos have recalled Josh Jordan-Roberts from loan at Bradford and he was due to play for the under-19s against Newcastle at Stanningley today (12.30).
Jordan Lilley has two games remaining at Bradford, including tomorrow, but could be brought back after that.
Rhinos’ management are hopeful long-term casualty Keith Galloway (knee) will be available at some stage over Easter, along with Jack Ormondroyd (knee).
Yesterday was the fourth game of Brad Singleton’s six-match ban and Ash Handley was unavailable after hurting a knee playing for Featherstone last weekend.