WATCH – Big-match Verdict: Leeds Rhinos playing ‘dangerous game’ with their Super League status

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IT WAS more like a game of musical chairs than a rugby league match and when the tune stopped Leeds Rhinos were left without a seat – and on the wrong end of a 38-36 scoreline.

A crazy clash with visitors Hull KR produced 13 tries and the lead changed hands six times.

Hull KR didn’t so much win the game as manage to be the team in front when the clock ran down.

It was outstanding entertainment for neutral viewers, but agony for those involved on the field and the terraces and Rovers’ 38-36 victory left Rhinos on the edge of the abyss.

A win would have gone a long way to securing their Betfred Super League status for next year, but instead they are one of four teams on four points in the Qualifiers and though they can probably afford one more loss they are now playing a very dangerous game.

Defence was woeful from both teams, but Leeds’ has collapsed completely in their last five matches. Ironically, the 36 points was their best total against Super League opposition this year, but Rovers looked like scoring every time they had the ball and more or less did.

Joel Moon scored his sixth try in three matches since reverting to centre. PIC: James Hardisty

Joel Moon scored his sixth try in three matches since reverting to centre. PIC: James Hardisty

The try that won it typified Leeds’ problems in what is becoming possibly the worst season in the club’s 128-year history. Junior Vaivai should have been wrapped up by Stevie Ward, Adam Cuthbertson and Liam Sutcliffe, but he managed to touch down from acting-half close to the line to level the scores and Craig Hall’s touchline conversion booted Rovers ahead.

The remaining 13 minutes was the longest period of the game with no scoring.

Hull KR deserved a precious two points. They also let a big lead slip, but Rhinos were six up at the break and 10 clear on 54 minutes and should have been able to hold on.

It’s obvious there is no confidence in the team and the players don’t seem to believe they can beat decent opposition. In their last 14 meetings with Super League sides they have won two, both against Widnes who are heading for relegation, drawn with Wakefield Trinity and lost the rest.

It’s obvious there is no confidence in the team and the players don’t seem to believe they can beat decent opposition. In their last 14 meetings with Super League sides they have won two, both against Widnes who are heading for relegation

Peter Smith

It is relegation form and if Rhinos do go down they can have no complaints. They have been in winning positions during that disastrous run, but can’t hold on to a lead.

Director of rugby Kevin Sinfield is trying to spark some life in his players, but the squad isn’t good enough and several of the best players are injured. The only objective now is to get to the end of the season, stay up and then look to rebuild next year when Sinfield will be working alongside a new head coach.

On attack, Rhinos did show some good signs, though errors and penalties at crucial times undid that. Rhinos scored first for the eighth successive game when Joel Moon grabbed his sixth try in three matches since switching from stand-off to centre.

It was an excellent finish, the Aussie managing to keep his foot clear of the touchline and get the ball down cleanly from Brett Ferres’ pass after Brad Dwyer, Brad Singleton, Richie Myler and Sutcliffe had handled.

Tryscorer, Richie Myler. PIC: James Hardisty

Tryscorer, Richie Myler. PIC: James Hardisty

Then the sort of blunder which has dogged their season handed Rovers a try out of nothing. Coming away from his own line Luke Briscoe’s pass went to ground and was pounced on by Hall who powered over to level the scores.

In the next set Chris Atkin chipped a kick to Adam Quinlan who collected and finished well for a try which Danny Tickle should have improved, but didn’t.

Soon afterwards Shaun Lunt slipped a superb pass to Hall and Robbie Mulhern was in support to score a try which Hall converted. Lunt and Mulhern were among five ex-Leeds players in Rovers’ 17, alongside Danny McGuire, Chris Clarkson and Nick Scruton. They’d all walk into this Rhinos team.

It is not a crowded field, but Tom Briscoe has been probably Rhinos’ player of the season. He got them back in it with an opportunist try out of the blue 12 minutes before the break, snapping up a loose pass on the last and putting on some footwork to slice through the defence. Sutcliffe kicked the first of his five conversions.

Eight minutes before the interval Ward was penalised for pushing James Greenwood at a play-the-ball on the last and Hall took the two.

Rovers were looking for a fourth try three minutes before the interval when Leeds hit them on the counter. Danny McGuire’s pass was intercepted almost on Leeds’ line by Sutcliffe. He was tackled by Atkin, but on the next play Tom Briscoe found Myler and he finished superbly, stepping past Mose Masoe and Lunt.

Carl Ablett's game against Hull KR was cut short by a knee injury. PIC: James Hardisty

Carl Ablett's game against Hull KR was cut short by a knee injury. PIC: James Hardisty

Leeds were over again in the next set. Myler’s pass found Ferres and he sent Jack Walker away. Walker’s pass to Moon looked forward, but the centre scattered the defence before hurling the ball wide to Nathaniel Peteru. It wasn’t the best pass, but he finished strongly for his first Leeds try.

The goal after the hooter made it 22-16 and Sutcliffe added two more points with a penalty two minute into the second half, after Matt Parcell had snatched possession when McGuire knocked-on Masoe’s low pass. That opened a two-score gap and Leeds should have gone on with it, but McGuire, who hadn’t had the best first half, stepped up to revive Rovers, creating back-to-back tries for Hall.

His pass for the first appeared to be forward, then Myler and Luke Briscoe both went up for the former Rhinos skipper’s cross kick, neither could take it and Hall touched down to complete his hat-trick before edging Rovers in front with the conversion, if only briefly.

Jordan Thompson broke a tackle and got a pass away which Parcell finished and in the next set Ward got on the outside of the defence before turning the ball inside to Tom Briscoe who produced another quality finish. At 36-26 and surely Leeds would hang on now? No.

Clarkson’s brilliant off-load sent Quinlan clear and he put Atkin over to cut the gap to two points and Rovers looked the more threatening team after that. McGuire could have added salt to Leeds’ gaping wound in the final seconds, but knocked on over the line.

Rhinos had no excuses, fielding a relatively strong squad with three players making their first appearance of the Qualifiers. Walker – at full-back, taking over from 18th man Ashton Golding – and substitute hooker Parcell both returned after injury and Thompson came in on the bench for his second Leeds appearance, after three games out due to being Cup-tied and then banned.

Ward stepped up off the bench to start out of position at centre, in place of Jimmy Keinhorst. Cuthbertson started at prop, swapping places with Peteru who was on the bench. A first-half knee injury to Carl Ablett added to Rhinos’ woes.

The penalty count was eight-seven in Rovers’ favour (three-three in the first half).

Team leader, Rhinos winger Tom Briscoe. PIC: James Hardisty

Team leader, Rhinos winger Tom Briscoe. PIC: James Hardisty