A bumper six days of bank holiday rugby league started on Wednesday night with a game between the Leeds Rhinos and Huddersfield Giants with plenty at stake. A win for the Rhinos would move them one step closer to ensuring a top six finish, while a Giants victory would move them back to within a point of second spot, the Wigan Warriors back in the crosshairs.
The Rhinos came into the game on the back of a five-game winning run while Huddersfield had a convincing win over the Tigers last week after a small hiccup the round before against the Castleford Tigers.
The bookies had gone with home advantage, but by the narrowest of margins, giving the Giants a two point start in the handicap coupon. Few could choose between the sides and a cracking contest in front of the SKY TV cameras was promised.
It was the perfect start for the Rhinos when Rhyse Martin was on hand to take a Handley catch and pass off a Richie Myler kick to the corner following and electric sixty-metre break from David Fusitu´and some excellent handling to keep the ball alive. Martin added the conversion for a 6-0 lead.
On eight minutes Chris Hill pushed his way over the Leeds line but was unable to get the ball on the ground, Brad Dwyers leg preventing the grounding. On the next play Leroy Cudjoe appeared to have scored off a cross field kick, but after referee Jack Smith sent the decision up as a ´TRY´, the video referee spotted a knock on from Toby King.
Fluid attack from the Giants saw them open their account on fifteen with Ricky Leutele being on hand to take the final pass from Tui Lolohea and drag two Leeds tacklers over the line with him to ground in the corner. Oliver Russell pushed his touchline conversion across the posts.
Leeds were denied a try on twenty-two when Mikolaj Oledzki promoted the ball after being tackled but it was a twenty minute spell which the Giants had dominated.
On thirty-one the Rhinos disciplinary problems made an unwanted return. After Bentley was penalised for dissent, Blake Austin was sin-binned for a clumsy late tackle on Sam Hewitt. Russell missed the resulting penalty, but the Rhinos were a man down, and a key playmaker at that, for the remainder of the half.
With just over four minutes of the half remaining the Giants exploited their overlap left with Louis Senior having plenty of space to run twenty metres and dot down by the corner flag. Russell was again wide with his kick, zero from three attempts on the night, the Giants with a two-point advantage.
The Giants made a real mess of dealing with the Rhinos kick off and from the resulting possession the Rhinos used all their available tackles with Richie Myler grounding the ball on the line by the left corner flag as Austin returned to the field. Martin curled his touchline conversion between the uprights to double the lead.
Leeds defence was strong, defending repeat sets on their own line, but the dam finally burst on fifty-seven with Leroy Cudjoe in space to take the pass and then spin out of two attempted tackles to get the ball down. Sezer made a reckless tackle on Theo Fages in the build-up and was shown ten fingers by the referee. Russell again missed with his conversion and rather than being eight points ahead, the Giants were just level.
Leeds conceded a penalty on their own line on seventy-one for offside and Russell finally managed to hit the target with his fifth attempt to edge the Giants back in front at 14-12 with seven minutes remaining.
On seventy-six Chris Hill lifted Myler in the tackle and saw the yellow card from the referee, the Rhinos trailing but with a man advantage for the last four minutes.
With just over two minutes remaining Austin took a terrific Dwyer offload to canter over from fifteen metres and score by the left hand post. Martin added the extras for a four-point Rhinos lead with just over sixty seconds left on the clock.
The last action of the game saw Joe Greenwood sin-binned for a dangerous lift with thirty seconds remaining, the Giants down to eleven for the dying seconds.
It was an exciting game, end to end football, great atmosphere, and the lead changing hands on four occasions. Some of the refereeing decision were ´curious´ with four sin-binnings in what was far from a dirty game. Credit to the Rhinos who are now almost certain to make the six, the Giants cannot now make the top two but are still safe inside the pay offs. A gritty Rhinos performance, now winning six on the bounce and heading to Perpignan to take on the Dragons on Monday evening needing one more win to guarantee their place.
Leeds Rhinos: Myler (T), Handley, Sutcliffe, Hardaker, Fusitu´a, Sezer (SB on 57), Austin (T, SB on 31), Oledzki, Dwyer, Tetevano, Gannon, Martin (T, 3G), Bentley. Subs: Briscoe, Prior, Leeming, O´Connor.
Huddersfield Giants: Lolohea, Cudjoe (T), King, Leutele (T), Senior L (T), Russell (G), Fages, Hill (SB on 76), Levi, Wilson, McQueen, Hewitt, Yates. Subs: English, Greenwood (SB on 79), O´Brien, Trout.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, 6-4, (SB), 6-8 : HT : 10-8, 12-8, 12-12, (SB), 12-14, (SB), 16-14, 18-14, (SB) : FT.
Lead Exchanges: Leeds – Huddersfield – Leeds – Square – Huddersfield - Leeds.
Referee: Jack Smith.