Leeds Rhinos 18 – 12 Warrington Wolves
Leeds Rhinos continued their impressive start to Super League XIX with a hard fought 18 – 12 victory against Warrington Wolves. This was the Rhinos’ opening home fixture of the season and if they are all like this the fans will be thrilled and their fingernails are sure to become just a distant memory.
Leeds against Warrington is a marquee fixture in any super league season, so to coincide with the first game at Headingley meant for a bumper crowd – so much so that even trying to get to the ground an hour and a half before kick-off was an effort, with fans keen to get in early and not let the harsh conditions keep them away. An hour before the game is due to start and the South Stand (The Leeds Met stand, for all you Varsity-goers) is verging on full; it’s clear for all to see that rugby league fever is back!
With the stadium filling up hastily the atmosphere was mounting; Leeds fans expectant after their mauling of Hull KR last week, and Warrington fans hopeful of a response to their 38-8 reverse at St Helens in round 1. With 10 minutes before kick-off Nessun Dorma rang out from the pre-match opera singer on the pitch; Rugby League and Pavarotti aren’t exactly two things I would put in the same basket either but it seemed to highlight the crescendo to the play that was about to unfold, on the grandest stage of them all, Leeds’ 2014 home campaign was about to begin.
In truth, it couldn’t have started much worse. After the inevitable to-ing and fro-ing of both teams’ first few possessions, Warrington grabbed momentum and gained possession in Leeds territory after a blocked kick. They pressured a second set of six out of Leeds after a deft kick toward the in-goal area, which the Rhinos looked to be dealing with comfortably until Gareth O’Brien’s high kick was collected by Joel Monaghan as he beat a static Ryan Hall for the first try of the game.
Warrington took the lead early, similar to their match against St Helens last week, and we all know how that ended. This match was soon to go the same way for Wolves, with Rhinos replying through a magnificent team try.
Rob Burrow, running from Dummy Half, started the move which saw the ball pass through the hands of Zak Hardaker, Kallum Watkins and into the hands of home debutant Tom Briscoe. Briscoe then showed the home fans what they can expect to see this season with the perfect grubber back into Hardaker to deservedly level the tie six points apiece with 20 minutes gone.
As the rain kept coming, so did the high kicks to test the wingers and full backs, causing panic on many occasions in both defences. This also led to handling errors from both teams, as the ball became as greasy as the half-time pies. One error almost proved costly by Ryan Atkins as, from the consequential scrum, Ryan Hall claimed a try, only for the video ref to have the simple decision that Hall had hit the whitewash before grounding the ball – a let off for the visitors.
With Zak Hardaker having another try disallowed for not grounding the ball, the Wolves seemed to be on thin ice, with Leeds having all the ball and applying all the pressure. With minutes to go in the half the ice finally cracked, as Tom Briscoe scored the try of the game. With Hardaker supplying the perfect flat pass, Briscoe sliced through the defence before sidestepping one defender and holding off another to claim his fourth try in two matches, which saw Rhinos lead 12-6 at the interval.
With the pressure coming down on the Rhinos in the second half, the defence stayed resolute, with many last ditch tackles being made to keep the lead intact. Man of the Match Zak Hardaker in particular proving he is one of the best full backs around when stopping Stefan Ratchford scoring what looked to be a certain try. With the game so tense the Headingley faithful really got behind their men, roaring them on, trumpets and all – the 16,000 plus crowd were being pulled one way and then the next with the nonstop action.
Then came the moment to put Rhinos fans at ease. With relatively little danger 10 metres out, Hardaker moved swiftly to extend the lead, a drop of the shoulder fooling the whole Warrington defence. With Kevin Sinfield, as always, adding the extras, a 12 point lead was established. Not that this made life any easier for the home side, with Warrington knocking on the door time after time, the tackles kept coming. Although Warrington had the ball near Leeds’ line they were not doing much with it, often not stretching their opponents to their own advantage.
The game was still on a knife edge, with Kevin Sinfield’s missed drop goal not helping matters. Sinfield then looked to have turned an ankle late on and limped off. With just five minutes left the away side grabbed a late foothold in the game thanks to Ben Westwood – the Warrington captain epitomising the team’s belief with his never-say-die attitude, finally crossing the line to create a nervous last few minutes for the Rhinos.
Warrington looked a different team and played with urgency in the final 5 minutes, gaining 60 minutes and more in 5 tackles, they could smell a draw. The full time hooter could not come soon enough for Leeds in the end, who held onto a well earned win. It wasn’t to be for Tony Smith’s troops, who will be hurting from two losses to start the season.
Leeds meanwhile will be looking to continue their good run in Perpignan next week when they face Catalans, with rain less likely to be an issue in the South of France. With Zak Hardaker and Tom Briscoe starting the season so well, the Rhinos will be hard to stop.
Image courtesy of the BBC