Peter Smith’s verdict: Battling Leeds Rhinos suffer gut-wrenching defeat against Warrington Wolves

THRILLING ENTERTAINMENT it undoubtedly was for Betfred Super League’s Channel 4 debut, but Leeds Rhinos have rarely suffered a more gut-wrenching outcome than their round one loss to Warrington Wolves.

By Peter Smith
Sunday, 13th February 2022, 4:57 pm

Rhinos were less than seven minutes away from what would have been, hands down, their most incredible win of the Super League era.

Eventually, weight of numbers told and Leeds – down to 12 men for 64 minutes and with only 11 for a spell either side of half-time – were pipped at the post 22-20.

Rhinos were the better team throughout and could not have given any more, but you don’t always get what you deserve.

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Leeds Rhinos' Matt Prior manages to ground the ball to score his side's second try against Warrington Wolves. Picture: Tony Johnson.

Leeds’ players received a terrific ovation following the final whistle which reflected how deep they dug against all the odds.

Credit also to the home fans in the 14,135 crowd who did everything they could to try and pull their men through and almost succeeded.

The two cards were costly enough, but Leeds also lost two key players – Richie Myler with a groin injury just before the red card and debutant winger David Fusitu’a, who didn’t come out in the second half after taking a heavy hit from Ben Currie.

For neutral viewers, it was a game that had almost everything: As well as three cards, there was controversy, good tries, some heroic defence on both sides and a series of outstanding individual performances.

James Bentley leaves the field after being sent off against Warrington while Richie Myler hobbles off with a groin injury. Picture: Tony Johnson.

So it’s a shame to mention the referee, Chris Kendall, but inevitable in the circumstances.

Rhinos don’t have a good record with him in the middle – nine losses in 11 games since the start of 2020 – and he was a central figure this time.

There couldn’t be much argument with the three cards he flourished, including the red shown to Bentley.

The debutant second-rower caught Gareth Widdop high; no damage was done and it was clumsy rather than malicious, but this year referees have been instructed to crack down on any foul play to the head, so Kendall didn’t have much choice.

Leeds Rhinos David Fusitu'a receives treatment. Picture: Tony Johnson.

Similarly, they have been instructed to sin-bin players for late hits on the passer, which is why Dwyer spent 10 minutes on the naughty step.

There wasn’t much to that one and again no injury was caused, but rules are rules, so – like James Donaldson and Blake Austin in pre-season – off Dwyer went.

The crowd weren’t happy when Warrington debutant Oliver Holmes, the former Castleford Tigers forward, received only a yellow for a high tackle on Donaldson in the second half, but contact wasn’t directly to the head so that was probably right as well.

The tackle which did cause an injury, Currie on Fusitu’a in the first half, didn’t result in a penalty and when Leeds’ Matt Prior was penalised for a marginally late hit, in the final quarter, he remained on the field.

However, Kendall and his near-side touchjudge Johnny Roberts both failed to spot that the pass from Stefan Ratchford which sent Connor Wrench over to level the scores – setting up Ratchford’s winning conversion – was clearly forward.

There was also a knock-on by Peter Mata’utia in the set leading to Warrington’s second try and, at 20-10, Roberts – who was right on the spot – missed Wrench putting a hand on the touchline in a tackle by Martin deep in Warrington territory.

They were all key moments, so the officials certainly didn’t get all the big calls right.

Warrington scored a good try early on to go 4-0 ahead, but their three other touchdowns all came as they made the most of a numerical advantage.

Leeds had gone close to scoring what would have been the winning try just before the visitors’ winner, but it just wasn’t their day.

The injuries – and potential suspensions – are a concern ahead of Friday’s trip to Wigan Warriors, but if Leeds play with similar grit and determination in every game this year, they will be tough to beat.

Kruise Leeming, who moved into the halves after Myler’s injury, was excellent in his first Super League game as skipper.

He created Rhinos’ third try with a smart grubber kick which Ash Handley ran through to touch down.

Rhyse Martin bravely stepped forward after the sudden death of his father during the week and was everywhere, playing for a spell out of position in the right-centre and there was an outstanding contribution from substitute Morgan Gannon who, if he carries that on, is an absolute shoo-in for Super League young player of the year.

Jack Walker did well in his first game since November, 2020 and Aidan Sezer, a lone half-back, also impressed on the day.

There would have been long odds on starting props Zane Tetevano and Prior scoring Leeds’ first two tries of the season, but the two big men both crashed over from close range off passes by Dwyer.

Those touchdowns wiped out Widdop’s early long-range try for Warrington, who got back in the game on the stroke of half-time through Josh Charnley.

Leeds led by 10 points when Martin added a penalty goal to his three conversions after Holmes was sin-binned.

Charnley’s second touchdown cut the gap before Ratchford won it with his third conversion, though the visitors will know they got away with one.

The penalty count was five-three in Rhinos’ favour.

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