LEEDS RHINOS suffered their heaviest defeat of the season so far when they were taken to the cleaners at Warrington Wolves last night.
The bookies found it too close to call, but Warrington were just too good. They started off at a blistering pace and never let up.
They had equalled the highest total – 18 points – and most tries – three – scored in a game against Leeds this term by half-time.
Rhinos actually did pretty well to restrict the rampant hosts to just one more try and six extra points in the second period, but the defeat was as comprehensive as the 24-6 scoreline suggests.
Chris Hill underlined his status as one of the form props in the competition with a rampaging display up the middle.
Michael Monaghan set a tremendous early lead and Richie Myler also had a big impact when he came off the bench.
There was also an outstanding contribution from Chris Bridge, who scored a brace of tries and landed four goals.
Leeds’s third defeat of the year saw them knocked off top spot in the First Utility Super League table.
They were never allowed to settle into a rhythm and rarely threatened the home line.
Carl Ablett and Zak Hardaker put in a huge effort and Liam Sutcliffe also did a good job, off the bench, but it was a night to forget.
Rhinos’ plans were disrupted when they were forced into a late team change. Brett Delaney travelled to the game, but was taken ill during the coach journey and had to withdraw.
Stevie Ward, who was not due to play, came into the 17, among the substitutes. Jamie Peacock came back after a game’s rest to start at prop. Brad Singleton dropped to the bench.
The visitors were reduced to just three available replacements when Mitch Achurch hobbled off mid-way through the opening period – on the same ground where he suffered a serious knee injury last year. Danny McGuire went off in the second half and didn’t return.
Warrington came out like they wanted to blow Rhinos away with early pace and power and Leeds were on the back foot for most of the first half.
Stefan Ratchford couldn’t ground Bridge’s kick after Leeds were split down their left-flank in the opening exchanges and then Joel Monaghan crossed, but referee James Child had already blown for a forward pass from Matty Russell.
In between those scares, Ablett twisted over at the other end, but video referee Ben Thaler spotted a knock-on.
That was Leeds’s only clear chance in the opening quarter, though they did have field position when Russell spilled Hardaker’s kick only for Ben Harrison to force Peacock into a fumble.
The first try came on 18 minutes. Michael Monaghan had a run from acting half and then his quick pass found Bridge, whose dummy sent Hardaker the wrong way – the former Bradford man also adding a simple conversion.
A Sinfield pass into touch let Warrington off the hook after Ryan Atkins had lost the ball near his own line, but that was a rare opportunity for Leeds.
It took a fine tackle by Joel Moon to force the ball from Joel Monaghan’s grasp as he headed for the line and it wasn’t a surprise when the home team doubled their lead nine minutes before the break.
There didn’t seem to be a lot on, but some footwork and a change of pace took Myler through a gap, leaving Ian Kirke flailing and Hill was in support to cross between the posts, making Bridge’s conversion a formality.
Myler’s introduction off the bench gave an already fired-up Warrington even more spark and the hill Rhinos were facing got steeper on 35 minutes.
Leeds were lucky when Michael Monaghan got over after Ryan Hall lost the ball near his own line, but Child had already called a scrum, with Warrington’s feed.
But their good fortune lasted just seconds as Bridge dashed over for his second try from Myler’s pass, the same player landing his third conversion of the evening.
It took a sensational tackle by Ablett to prevent Warrington going in even further in front. A minute before the break McGuire’s loose pass was snapped up by Gene Ormsby.
When he found Joel Monaghan in support it looked a certain try, but Ablett somehow got across to force the Aussie into touch just short of the line.
On a poor night for Rhinos, that was one of their highlights and it would have to be a candidate for tackle of the season.
There was one almost as good right at the start of the second period, when the speedy Rhys Evans went the length of the field, but was slid into touch just before the line by Hardaker.
That came seconds after Hall had collected Ablett’s kick a few metres out, but was unable to hold on long enough to get over for the try.
A remarkable improvised play on the last ended with Ratchford touching down, but Ben Evans’s knock-on was spotted by video ref Thaler, who ruled no try.
Warrington extended their lead to four scores on 55 minutes when Bridge booted a penalty, but Leeds at least avoided a whitewash four minutes later when Kylie Leuluai went over for his first try of the season, off Peacock’s pass, following a Sutcliffe break. Kevin Sinfield converted.
Warrington’s fourth try came eight minutes from the end through Joel Monaghan, who had to go off after being caught in the head by a boot from Ablett, who was placed on report.
Ratchford was earlier placed on report following a tackle on Ablett. The penalty count finished five-three in Warrington’s favour (2-1 in the first half).
Meanwhile, Rhinos under-19s were beaten 34-20 in the curtain-raiser, with Nathan Barker crossing twice and Ash Handley and Billy McDermott also touching down. Joe Sanderson kicked two goals.
Rhinos trailed 22-0 after half an hour, but narrowed the gap to two points midway through the second half before Warrington finished the stronger.
Charlie Brown and Jack Walker both scored a brace of tries in Rhinos under-16s’ 36-16 victory away to Featherstone Rovers.
Other try scorers were Reece Chapman-Smith, Harry Dunne and Morgan Smith, who also kicked four goals.
Ryan Lister, Jack Carter and Jack Lloyd crossed for Rovers and Luke Adamson and James Bentley each kicked a goal.
Two-try veteran Paul Wellens provided the inspiration as St Helens powered to the top of Super League with a convincing 32-12 win over lacklustre Salford.
Sia Soliola, Lance Hohaia and Gary Wheeler also touched down for dominant Saints at Langtree Park and Luke Walsh kicked six goals but it was Wellens, still turning on the style at 34, who led the way.
Salford rarely threatened and were limited to consolation tries from Niall Evalds and Gareth Hock as they slumped to yet another defeat.