Playing conditions perfect. Two quality teams. Friday night under the lights.
Summer rugby seems to have finally arrived and, at Headingley, an enthralling game was played out as Warrington Wolves secured the ninth win in nine to strengthen their top four credentials.
Their start was strong and, for the first twenty minutes, they held dominant territory. After six minutes, the ball was worked from right to left, passing through the hands of both Tyrone Roberts and Kevin Brown, the latter passing to Harvey Livett – more on him later – who kicked through. Richocheting off Kallum Watkins, Livett then was able to improvise and kick into the path of Brown who, after nudging the ball into the in goal, grounded under pressure from Tom Briscoe. His reaction perhaps suggested he felt he had knocked on but, after Ben Thaler sent the decision upstairs, video evidence proved he grounded. Bryson Goodwin, who would later go off with a head injury, converted and the visitors had a 6-0 lead.
Ten minutes later, Wire extended their lead at Livett barrelled over from dummy half, seeing the gap behind the play. This time, Goodwin missed the conversion – shortly after hitting the post with a penalty attempt – and the score stood 10-0. The Rhinos simply hadn’t got going at this point but, with the introduction of Nathaniel Peteru on 22 minutes for only his second appearance of the season following injury on opening night against the same opposition, the hosts seemed to get a footing in the match. Running hard and defending strong, it was a promising return to Super League action for the former Gold Coast Titan. After 31 minutes, and somehow just ten points adrift, Leeds crossed through full-back Ashton Golding. Having already made two mistakes via knock ons from attacking Wolves kicks, the 21 year-old regained his confidence after crossing in the right channel. A shanked Watkins conversion failed but the 2017 champions were just six points behind. That, however, would be extended by the single point after Warrington’s number 7 Roberts placed a drop-kick through the posts under absolutely no Rhinos pressure.
After a mediocre first half, Leeds came out a different team for the second stanza. The Wolves penalised twice in possession for fouling defenders, the hosts had excellent field position which Joel Moon made use of, crossing for a try which Watkins converted – leaving the score 10-11. Ten minutes later, Leeds were in the lead. An excellent move coming from right to left, including a superb wrap around by Richie Myler who exchanged passes with JJB, the ball was worked out to Ryan Hall who found himself with a pretty much free run to the line from ten yards. After 54 minutes – and another touchline Watkins conversion – those in blue and amber were 16-11 ahead. After a poor first half, some would have suggested that Leeds hardly deserved to be in the game let alone the lead but, having hit a purple patch at the start of the second half, their lead was about to be extended even further.
From their next set, Jones-Buchanan passed left to Myler who teed up Carl Ablett. Galloping onto the ball at pace, the 32 year-old had raced through the gap and outstripped Stefan Ratchford to cross in the left corner. Another Watkins conversion saw Leeds now boast an eleven point lead but only after the conversion had hit the post and dropped the right side for the flags to be raised. However, post-match Brian McDermott admitted he never felt that would be enough and that they didn’t have control of the game and that was to ring true just two minutes later. Following a strange decision where Thaler adjudged Jones-Buchanan to have knocked on at the play the ball, experienced centre Ryan Atkins gathered a Brown grubber to narrow the deficit. He will have enjoyed it having, hilariously, failed to score a ‘Superman’ try in the opening game against the Rhinos and it got better for Warrington as Ratchford, having taken over boot duties from the injured Goodwin, converted. 22-17.
The game was, with just under twenty minutes left on the clock, in the balance but a young Warrington star was set to take control. Livett, the 21 year-old second rower, had scored earlier in the piece and, following Goodwin’s exit from proceedings, had moved to centre to cover the Australian’s absence. However, that wasn’t to halt him having a big say on the destination of the points. Superb offloads from Jack Hughes and Ratchford released the youngster and, demonstrating great composure, he dummied to Lineham and sauntered to the line, breaking Golding’s half tackle. That left the Chesire team a point ahead and, from the next set, Livett would secure his hat trick. A superb break from the excellent Daryl Clark gave Ratchford the chance to get his team some ground upfield and, having broken the defensive line, there was space for the Wolves to play. Passing on to Roberts, the play came left and Hughes again played a part. Running towards the corner, Livett had dipped back inside and, when his fellow second rower had given him the ball, it was an easy finish for Livett. Another example of Sky Sports’ Man of the Match system failing miserably, he was somehow absent from the list.
Had the award been dished out at the end of the game, he would surely have been awarded it. However, his second and third tries on 68 and 70 minutes came too late to be included on the shortlist but, despite failing to get on the scoresheet, England hooker Clark was certainly a worthy recipient as he delivered a superb performance for the in-form Wolves and directed his team to victory. A gloss would be added to the scoreline moments before the final hooter as another of Warrington’s big men crashed over. Having been penalised various times throughout the game as well as being disallowed a first-half try, Ben Murdoch-Masila would have been delighted to have barged over on 78, shortly after Atkins was disallowed a second. The Tongan behemoth sealed the win for the visitors, making up for both their 40-0 defeat in Leeds last season as well as their opening day defeat at the Halliwell Jones, and the Wolves had their eight consecutive Super League win, their ninth in all competitions.
Looking the real deal, it could be suggested that St Helens, Wigan Warriors and the Wolves are looking set for top three finishes leaving it likely that Castleford, Leeds and Hull FC will be competing for the final play-off spot.
For the Rhinos, however, it is the third recent defeat against fellow top four contenders having lost to both Wigan and Hull FC in April. Next up they face Widnes in the Challenge Cup before the big clash at Magic Weekend where they will face Castleford.
Men of the Match: Harvey Livett and Daryl Clark
Leeds Rhinos line up: Golding, Briscoe, Watkins, Handley, Hall, Moon, Myler, Singleton, Ferres, Cuthbertson, Jones-Buchanan, Ward, Ablett.
Interchanges: Peteru, Mullally, Walters, Parcell.
Warrington Wolves line up: Ratchford, Lineham, Goodwin, Atkins, Charnley, K. Brown, Roberts, Hill, Clark, Cooper, Livett, Hughes, Westwood.
Interchanges: Murdoch-Masila, Patton, Akauola, Philbin
Leeds Rhinos’ Brian McDermott: “I thought Warrington’s defence was just too stiff for us. We found it hard to break a tackle in the early stages and I thought we were ineffective with the ball. We got back into it and showed some character and some skill and we went through a purple patch with the ball but I never thought we were quite in charge.”
Warrington Wolves’ Steve Price: “I felt we were always in control of the game. I was disappointed with the start of the second half, there were some calls that I couldn’t get my head around. Credit to Leeds, they’re a quality football team, and they scored a number of quick tries in succession but one thing I was pleased with was our ability to hang tough.