Warrington Wolves 4 Leeds Rhinos 40: Eight-try victory revives Super League play-off hopes

An outstanding attacking performance at Warrington Wolves last night hinted at a much better second half of the season for what is looking like a resurgent Leeds Rhinos side.
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After a very shaky start, when they were ripped open on their left side twice, Leeds played some excellent rugby to build a 20-4 half-time lead.

They scored four first half tries, three of them in a devastating six minute spell and it was hard to believe this was the same team who had been so woeful at times in the first quarter of the campaign.

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To be fair, it wasn’t, to a large extent. Rhinos’ performances and results have picked up as they’ve got influential players back, but new boss Rohan Smith is clearly having a positive effect on the way his men play.

Zak Hardaker had a fine game for Rhinos. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.Zak Hardaker had a fine game for Rhinos. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.
Zak Hardaker had a fine game for Rhinos. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.

Jamie Jones-Buchanan laid a platform during his spell as interim-boss, restoring some spirit and belief and Smith is encouraging them to play an expansive brand of rugby which, at times last night, was terrific to watch.

Leeds were comfortable after the interval and then scored foyer more tries in the final quarter to complete what could prove a pivotal 40-4 victory

Rhinos’ second successive win - and fourth in five matches - lifted them to eighth in the table and playing like this, the top-six is now a realistic target.

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Ash Handley celebrates as he crosses for his sercond try in Rhinos' big win at Warrington. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.Ash Handley celebrates as he crosses for his sercond try in Rhinos' big win at Warrington. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.
Ash Handley celebrates as he crosses for his sercond try in Rhinos' big win at Warrington. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.
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Leeds were excellent across the park, but against his former club, Blake Austin had a fine game and the other ex-Warrington men, Richie Myler, Bodene Thompson and Brard Dwyer being the others, played well.

Under Smith, Rhinos have looked much better around the ruck and Kruise Leeming again set a superb lead.

Zak Hardaker and Cameron Smith also impressed, but it was difficult to find fault with the all-round performance, including a defensive effort which restricted Warrington to just one try.

Incredibly, Rhinos could have been 12 points down inside six minutes, but led after seven.

Matt Prior tackled by Warrington's Daryl Clark. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.Matt Prior tackled by Warrington's Daryl Clark. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.
Matt Prior tackled by Warrington's Daryl Clark. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com.
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Warrington twice broke them from inside their own half in the opening exchanges.

First, Peter Mata’utia tapped the ball on to Connor Wrench who turned the ball inside to Oliver Holmes, but the former Castleford second-rower slipped with the line at his mercy.

Then Daryl Clark raced clear, but George Williams’ poor kick went dead in goal.

In the next set, Leeming showed him how it should have been done with an excellent chip to the right flank for the impressive David Fusitu’a to score.

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That came on the play after Stefan Ratchford’s ankle tap grounded Smith in front of the posts, effectively saving two points as Rhyse Martin couldn’t convert Fusitua’s try from the touchline.

At the end of the first quarter, Hardaker took a quick tap and sent Myler into a big gap, but the pass was forward.

Warrington got over the line in the resulting set, but Mata’utia was held up by Liam Sutcliffe.

Thompson made an outstanding tackle to deny Williams in similar fashion, but Rhinos finally cracked when Matty Ashton dived over from Gareth Widdop’s pass.

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Leeds were quickly back in front through a remarkable try which began arguably their best attacking spell of the season.

Leeming darted out of acting-half and his pass was handed on, brilliantly, by Myler to Hardaker and he sent Leeming over.

Hardaker turned from provider to scorer three minutes later, on the half hour, taking Smith’s pass, beating Ratchford with footwork and stretching over.

Rhino’ purple - or pink - patch continued with another brilliant try moments later. After a run by Fusitu’a, Austin launched a huge cross kick from right to left, Ash Handley palmed it to Sutcliffe and when he realised he couldn’t get over, the centre offloaded to James Donaldson and he touched down.

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Donaldson had come on just before Warrington’s try iN place of Morgan Gannon who failed a head test, ruling him out of Leeds’ next game, at Huddersfield Giants on Friday.

Martin improved the tries by Leeming and Hardaker and Rhinos were 16 points ahead, which was increased by two seven minutes after the interval following a high tackle by Clark on Matt Prior.

In the next set, Sutcliffe sent Handley on a run and Smith was held up over the line from the winger’s inside pass.

That would have settled it and it looked like Thompson had, from Austin’s pass. Referee Jack Smith handed the decision on as a try, but he was overruled by video assistant Tom Grant who awarded Warrington a penalty for a double-movement.

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It took him innumerable replays, which suggested there wasn’t clear evidence either way. It was probably the right decision, but the delay was frustrating.

Warrington should have pulled a try back with 20 minutes left when Matty Ashton broke through, but Matty Davis dropped the pass when it seemed easier to score.

Rhinos were down to 12 men at the time, Donaldson having to spend two minutes on the sidelines after being shown a green card, designed to cut out alleged time wasting by players receiving treatment from the physio.

A try by Davis might have set up a tense finish, but instead Leeds put the game to bed with another spell of three tries in six minutes.

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Williams knocked on trying to intercept near Warrington’s line and from the scrum, Austin and Myler linked to send Handley over.

That was converted, then Brad Dwyer went close and Thompson capped a fine game by getting over from acting-half.

Fusitu’a scored his second soon afterwards, cutting infield from a long pass by Leeming - playing in the halves after Austin was given a rest - following clever handling by Myler and Hardaker.

Then in the final moments, Handley intercepted a pass by Williams close to Leeds’ line and went the length of the field, Martin’s fourth goal completing the scoring.

The penalty count was six-three in Leeds’ favour, after being two-two at half-time.