It would be difficult for tonight’s meeting of second placed Leeds Rhinos and third played Hull FC to match up to last nights breathless action down the road at the Mend-a-hose Jungle as the two close rivals fought for the second spot at Old Trafford.
After an awful 2016 the Rhinos have bounced back to finish in second place but they were up against the repeat Challenge Cup holders who were determined to give themselves the chance of an elusive Cup and Grand Final double.
Only one side could progress and we were promised a battle royal.
The Rhinos got off to a terrific start on three minutes after Danny McGuire had been taken out after putting in a high kick. From the first play from the resulting penalty Stevie Ward spun out of the tackle and reached out to ground the ball on the line. Kallum Watkins added the conversion.
Hull then defended valiantly against a concerted Leeds onslaught although they were penned inside their own twenty for long periods.
On seventeen the Rhinos doubled their lead when Anthony Mullally made Hull pay for a knock-on when he took a brilliant offload from a spinning Danny McGuire to go over unopposed. Watkins again added the two for 12-0.
After being battered for twenty minutes FC came close on twenty-three but Albert Kelly was held up over the line but on twenty-six they registered their first points when Gareth Ellis took a beautiful no-look pass from Danny Houghton to crash over the Rhinos defence to score under the sticks. Marc Sneyd added the extras t9 reduce the arrears.
As dominant as the Rhinos had been in the opening twenty-five it was the visitors who had the upper hand in the remaining fifteen and who were unlucky to go into the half-time interval trailing.
The Airlie Birds carried their resurgence into the second half and with just four minutes on the clock, after Ryan Hall had knocked the ball into touch, the visitors moved the ball from right to left and Mahe Fonua found space on the overlap off a Jake Connor pass to go in. Sneyd failed to add the extras from wide, a missed kick that would eventually prove costly.
On fifty four Brad Singleton looked to have edged the Rhinos further ahead after a great run to the line but the video referee agreed with the on-field official and ruled ‘No Try’. Within a minute it was FC in the lead when the Rhinos failed to deal with a Sneyd high kick and a tap back ended up in the hands of Sika Manu for a walk in. This time Sneyd kicked the goal for a 16-12 lead for FC.
The middle section of the game was dominated by Hull but slowly the Rhinos edged back into it.
On sixty-two the Rhinos scored the try of the game, an thirty metres effort from Liam Sutcliffe who turned and twisted his way to the line through a grasping Hull defence. Watkins added the extra two and the Rhinos were up by 18-16.
It was a tense last eighteen minutes, bossed by two eager and ferocious defences and the Rhinos managed to keep the Airlie Birds at bay to seal the victory.
For t(e second night running we were treated to sensational advert for our great game played out by two keen and skilful sides who were prepared to put everything on the line for the win. The attitude of all thirty-four players was top notch.
Either side would grace next Saturdays a Grand Final but it is the Rhinos who will be appearing in their record equalling tenth Grand Final and taking on the Castleford Tigers for the games ultimate prize in eight days time.
Rhinos: Walker, Briscoe, Watkins (3G), Sutcliffe (T), Hall, Moon, McGuire, Garbutt, Parcell, Singleton, Ward (T), Jones-Buchanan, Cuthbertson. Subs: Mullally (T), Ferres, Burrow, Ablett.
FC: Shaul, Fonua (T), Connor, Tuimavave, Talanoa, Kelly, Sneyd (2G), Taylor, Houghton, Watts, Manu (T), Minichiello, Ellis (T). Subs: Griffin, Bowden, Green, Fashion.
Referee: Phil Bentham.