If a week is a long time in rugby league, then a month is almost an age. Just over three weeks have passed since Leeds’ 66-10 defeat by Castleford – a night which seemed as if it would be season-defining even then– and recent form suggests that is still the case.
The Rhinos are certainly not the finished article – far from it – but the wounds they suffered earlier this month could easily have taken much longer than this to heal.
In hindsight Leeds may yet carry the pain of their heaviest-ever Super League defeat through the remainder of 2017: perversely, their darkest night may yet result in being the catalyst for a brighter future.
The four games since that defeat were subsequently pinpointed as crucial by the Leeds chief executive, Gary Hetherington, in a public email circulated to the club’s fans. They have since won three successive games and are now level on points with Hull FC at the top of the table. As responses go, that is not bad at all – even if one feels there is more to come.
This latest victory showcased all the traits which have epitomised Leeds’ recent revival – albeit in fits and bursts. The first half was built on the attacking panache which had put Catalans and Wakefield to the sword in recent weeks while the second, where the Rhinos scored the solitary try of the half, was based around defensive efforts which were almost unrecognisable when put into comparison with the defeat at Castleford.
“We’ll savour this,” admitted the Leeds coach, Brian McDermott. “I don’t think anyone thinks the dressing room are rolling our shoulders at being second given what’s happened over the last 18 months with this club. We’re not out of the woods yet but it’s a response for sure.”
McDermott himself deserves some semblance of praise for his part in this revival. Questions were laid at his door after the manner of Leeds’ defeat at Castleford – to the extent that it was queried whether his six-year reign in charge of the Rhinos had run its course. Recent form suggests that is not the case.
In a week where the talk at Huddersfield had been about whether their star half-back, Danny Brough, would play following speculation he was set to leave, the Giants ultimately fell away badly here after leading at one stage – and this after a respectable draw against the reigning champions, Wigan, last week.
The fact the season is barely two months old means Huddersfield are certainly not adrift of the top eight yet but their reputation as one of the competition’s most inconsistent sides was reinforced again here. “It’s disappointing because we were in the contest for the majority of the game,” said their coach, Rick Stone.
Early tries from Tom Briscoe and Ryan Hall put Leeds 10-0 ahead before the Giants responded well via Ukuma Ta’ai and Jermaine McGillvary, with Brough converting both to make it 12-10.
Carl Ablett then went over for Leeds before turning provider to set up a try for the hooker, Matt Parcell, who has made a real difference to the Rhinos since arriving from the NRL. Their 18-12 lead could easily have been more at the break had Ashton Golding not missed three of his four attempts at goal. Ultimately, it mattered little.
The second half featured a plethora of handling errors and flashpoints with the biggest talking point perhaps Brough’s yellow card following an altercation with Ablett, who was also sent to the sin-bin.
Neither side could take advantage of that 10-minute period, however, with the only further points in the opening hour a penalty from Golding which extended Leeds’ lead to eight: and when Liam Sutcliffe followed suit shortly after, the Rhinos always felt in control.
Jordan Baldwinson would put the seal on another encouraging night for the Rhinos late on with a fine individual try in front of the travelling Leeds supporters, who must feel as if the pain they were made to endure that night at Castleford is a long time ago now.
Hull FC leapfrogged Wigan Warriors at the top of the Super League table after surviving a second-half comeback at the DW Stadium to win 22-20. Hull were delayed in traffic in getting to Wigan but raced into a 22-0 lead with Steve Michaels, Albert Kelly, Jake Connor and Jamie Shaul scoring for the visitors.
Wigan did not get on the scoresheet until the 53rd minute, but late tries from George Williams, Tom Davies and Liam Marshall set up a chance to tie the game, only for Morgan Escare to miss a late conversion.
Salford Red Devils registered nine different scorers as they thrashed Widnes Vikings 46-10. Salford eased into a 30-0 lead by half-time and, despite two Widnes tries after the break from Corey Thompson and Rhys Hanbury, it was the visitors that finished the stronger: Todd Carney, making his Salford debut, set up Gareth O’Brien for the ninth score.
Elsewhere Warrington Wolves made it six defeats from six at St Helens, with Adam Swift scoring twice in front of a home crowd of 11,598.
Huddersfield McIntosh; McGillvary, Cudjoe, Mellor, Murphy; Brough, Gaskell; Rapira, Leeming, Ikahihifo, Ferguson, Ta’ai, Clough. Interchange Hinchcliffe, Wakeman, Roberts, Smith. Tries Ta’ai, McGillvary Goals Brough 2
Leeds Golding; Briscoe, Watkins, Keinhorst, Hall; McGuire, Moon; Baldwinson, Parcell, Cuthbertson, Ablett, Ferres, Jones-Buchanan. Interchange Mullally, Burrow, Garbutt, Sutcliffe. Tries Briscoe, Hall, Ablett, Parcell, Baldwinson Goals Golding 2, Sutcliffe 2
Referee B Thaler Attendance 8,666