After a poor display, especially handling wise, Leeds Rhinos’ late surge saw them continue their winning start to the campaign as they defeated newly promoted Hull Kingston Rovers 20-11 on Thursday night.
The match – being played at Elland Road as Headingley undergoes renovations – was blighted by rain which made for a greasy, wet evening under the lights at the Rhinos’ makeshift home and the reigning champions struggled to keep hold of the ball. Indeed, Adam Cuthbertson knocked on while playing the ball in one of the game’s first exchanges and set the tone for KR to dominate the early proceedings as the curtain rose on the second weekend of Super League. Quickfire tries from winger Ryan Shaw and full back Adam Quinlan, the latter of which was assisted by a glorious dummy and sidestep from Chris Atkin, saw the Robins hit the thirty minute mark with a 10-0 lead.
However, displaying the sort of steel and ability to conjure something out of nothing that has been seen regularly through the years, Leeds hit back through talisman Cuthbertson. After gaining quick ground, the returning Stevie Ward got the ball in hand and picked out the Australian who, running a superb line, galloped in from twenty yards and signalled the start of a mini comeback as, within minutes, the recalled Jimmy Keinhorst – only playing after Joel Moon’s late withdrawal – shimmied his way over in the left channel to score his first of three tries. Indeed, had Richie Myler nailed the conversion, Leeds would have headed into the second half with a hardly deserved lead. However, 10-10 was the score after the first forty.
In a bid to gain control of the game once more, KR’s Atkin – making his Super League debut in the halves alongside returning Leeds legend Danny McGuire – slotted a low drop goal through the posts with a mere two minutes on the clock in the second stanza. 11-10 was the scored following that and it would, indeed, remain the score until the last fifteen minutes when Jimmy Keinhorst finished off two tries after Leeds – finally – began to get into a rhythm of play. Long, rampaging runs down the left flank from Ryan Hall got the fans going in the stands and, after finding a perfect line cutting in from the left, Keinhorst crossed for his second under the posts to make it 16-11 to those in amber and blue. Shortly after, following a towering Myler kick, winger Hall caught the ball and fought of tacklers seeking to force the turnover and a sharp offload enabled the German to cut inside and cross to give the Rhinos a nine point lead.
However, the drama wasn’t over. Winger Shaw, scorer of the game’s opening try, had caused havoc throughout the game with his driven kick offs which skidded off the greasy pitch and forced errors of the Rhinos, delivered another of his specials which saw Keinhorst knock on as Leeds would have hoped to close the game out. Repeat sets and resets of the tackle count followed in KR’s favour and Shaw thought he had scored in the corner following a grubber kick from the centre. As referee Robert Hicks – a man who, incidentally, had made some suspect calls throughout the match – sent the decision upstairs to James Child, Shaw and his KR teammates raced back to take the kick and back to their own line respectively to hastily resume the match. Sarcastic cheers, then, were to be expected once Child gave the decision in Leeds’ favour and the game then was closed out by the Rhinos.
While Leeds were by no means at their best – their performance wasn’t anywhere near that of the season opener last weekend against Warrington – it perhaps could be argued that the mark of a team is whether they can win matches that they possibly didn’t deserve to and, if that is the case, the Rhinos can be happy. They were poor, which is as much down to the weather conditions as well as their own errors, and will need to up their game hugely for next Friday’s World Club Challenge match against Melbourne Storm, but coach Brian McDermott will be happy enough to have a 100% record after two matches as Leeds aim to retain their Super League title.