By Sam Charlton
Leeds Rhinos survived a second half fight back from Hull KR to secure just a fourth Super League win of the season and move up to 10th in the league standings.
David Furner’s side went in to the game in 11th position but were joint level on points with bottom club London Broncos, however, their second win in three league games sees them leapfrog Sunday’s opponents KR on the table.
The Rovers made Leeds sweat for their victory, though, battling back from 22-0 down at the half-time and 28-0 down after 48 minutes to eventually lose by only four points
The hosts got off to a fast start in the round 13 fixture, scoring in under two minutes when Ash Handley claimed his first try of the afternoon following a fantastic break from in-form hooker Brad Dywer.
Hull KR’s Shaun Lunt had a try ruled out for offside before Liam Sutcliffe kicked a penalty goal in the 21st minute, stretching the lead to 8-0. Handley then grabbed his second try after a flowing right-to-left move found him in space on the wing, leaving the 23-year-old with the simple task of strolling over the line and touching down.
Already holding a three score advantage after a dominant first half an hour, things got even better for Leeds before the break with two quick-fire tries from Tom Briscoe and Jack Walker.
After two tries down the left side, the Rhinos made use of their right edge as Briscoe went over for their third. Stand-off Tuimoala Lolohea, who put in his best performance in blue and amber since his transfer from NRL side Wests Tigers during the off-season, eluded the defence before sending a cut-out pass to Briscoe who was able to cross unattended.
Returning fullback Walker, who hadn’t played in any of the three games since the previous meeting with Hull KR on 4th April due to an ankle injury, added another try in the very next set after supporting Matt Parcell’s breakaway before being put in the clear and running 45 metres to dive underneath the posts. Sutcliffe’s third conversion, the last act of the half, put Leeds an impressive 22 points ahead.
But, as has been the story of the season so far, an inability to put in an 80-minute performance almost led to the home side throwing all of their hard work away.
Despite a Parcell try further widening the gap on the scoreline early in the second half, the Rovers were not disheartened and began their fight back two minutes later when Ben Crooks gathered in a loose ball, after Walker had knocked down Weller Hauraki’s attempted offload, and reached out to score before the covering defenders arrived.
At 28-6 with 65 minutes gone, Leeds seemed to be closing out the game in reasonably controlled fashion, however, when Hauraki outjumped Richie Myler and flicked Josh Drinkwater’s floated kick into the arms of Danny McGuire, allowing him to send an easy pass to Crooks to record his brace, panic set in amongst the Rhinos players and a frantic final 15 minutes commenced.
After another promising opportunity had already gone to waste when an attack down the right ended in the South Stand terrace rather than the hands of Ryan Shaw, KR maintained their late pressure and scored again on 75 minutes through Kane Linnett who took advantage of a broken defensive line on the back of a break from Craig Hall. Ryan Shaw made it three from three with the boot as the Rovers moved within ten points.
With the clock running down, it was unlikely that the East Yorkshire side would find the 12 points required to snatch an unlikely victory, but there was time for them to post the final points of the day when Hauraki, who had a lively second half, got on the end of McGuire’s kick in-behind and crashed over. McGuire drop-kicked the conversion in order to get the game restarted swiftly, but a knock-on from Crooks brought an end to any hopes of a heroic comeback as Leeds held on for a narrow 28-24 win.
Leeds coach David Furner was happy with his team’s performance in the first half, but felt inexperience opened the door for Hull KR to fight their way back in to contention: “I thought it was a very good performance in the first half, really controlled.
“We didn’t talk too much [at half time], we knew that they were going to mount a fight back so we talked about the first ten minutes of the second half but there were a couple of big momentum swingers. When we had the ball off a tap [restart] I think there were three pay-one errors, and this isn’t directed at anyone but I think that shows a little bit of inexperience in our team. They [the opportunities with the ball] could have been tries and I reckon the game would have been over”.
Tim Sheens rued a “disastrous first half” in which Leeds scored 22 of their 28 points and ultimately left KR with too much to do. “It was a disastrous first half, particularly just around half-time. The first set they had, they scored- but those back to back tries before the break made it difficult for us.
“We got back into it gradually and we spoke at the break about winning the second half. We needed to win that second half and I demanded it from them that we did. There were good signs after that, particularly after a disastrous Easter” – Hull KR have lost all three games over Easter, having also been beaten 56-12 by local rivals Hull FC and 54-6 by Warrington Wolves.
Leeds Rhinos: Jack Walker, Tom Briscoe, Kallum Watkins, Harry Newman, Ash Handley, Tuimoala Lolohea, Richie Myler, Mikolaj Oledzki, Brad Dwyer, Brad Singleton, Cameron Smith, Liam Sutcliffe, Trent Merrin.
Substitutes: Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Matt Parcell, James Donaldson, Owen Trout.
Hull Kingston Rovers: Craig Hall, Ryan Shaw, Jimmy Keinhorst, Ben Crooks, Junior Vaivai, Danny McGuire, Josh Drinkwater, Robbie Mulhern, Shaun Lunt, Ryan Lannon, Joel Tomkins, Kane Linnett, George Lawler.
Substitutes: Weller Hauraki, Chris Atkin, Owen Harrison, Antoni Maria.
Date: Sunday 28th April 2019.
Venue: Emerald Headingley Stadium.
Referee: James Child.