Something to Tweet About: Rhinos win in show of support for the Armed Forces
An evening that began with Ronnie the Rhino sliding across the pitch prompting the young mascots to muck in and follow suit ended with Hull FC following the leader and making mistake after mistake on an entertaining evening at Headingley.
Only a month ago, things were looking pretty bleak for the Rhinos after two successive heavy defeats to Wigan Warriors and Warrington Wolves had Leeds fearing for their Play-Off chances, but three wins in a row had lifted the Yorkshire club to 6th and level on points with their opponents on Friday night, Hull FC. This trio of triumphs against teams near the bottom of the table had restored a bit of belief in the Rhinos and a home match versus Hull FC would be an appropriate benchmark for the progress made by the side over the last few weeks.
I’d seen Leeds beat Castleford a few weeks before and the performance was encouraging but perhaps a little lacking in the ruthlessness needed to be the best in the sport. The 58-12 win in London last week was a result that indicated that Leeds meant business again and Hull FC, fresh from a tight win over Huddersfield Giants, would provide the Rhinos with their toughest challenge since playing Warrington.
Both sides would be battling against the elements too after Leeds had been hit with torrential rain throughout the day (42 millimetres of the stuff, the press at Headingley had been reliably informed). The Leeds Rhinos website had moved to reassure fans by confirming the game would go ahead and the use of communication tools was being promoted by the club as no fewer than 10 Leeds players had their Twitter handles replacing their second names on the back of their shirts. The initiative marked the first of its kind in rugby league and was orchestrated in recognition of the Leeds Rhinos official Twitter page having the most followers out of all the Super League equivalent efforts.
Leeds wore steel and lime green shirts in place of their usual blue and amber tops to promote the sale of these limited edition items, created to earn money for the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity – a charity designed to support bereaved families of soldiers and cater for the needs of the country’s servicemen. The Last Post was played before the game and a minute’s silence was observed in honour of all those soldiers who had died serving their country in the armed forces. Headingley had recently hosted the procession of the Olympic torch and this tribute upped the patriotic ante fostered by the efforts of those in charge at Rhinos. A few members of the England team that lost to the Exiles midweek were playing their second game in three days whilst Jamie Peacock made his 350th rugby league appearance having only just retired from the international scene.
Hull, missing several key men through injuries and suspensions, started the brighter and put the Leeds defence under considerable pressure during the opening 10 minutes. Referee, Tim Roby, didn’t help the home cause as he failed to spot numerous Hull infringements of the offside rule but the Rhinos defence impressively repelled each attack and Ryan Bailey took it upon himself to barge into an unfortunate away player with such force that the crowd exclaimed an “Oooh!” before the South Stand chanted their ode to the Leeds-born left forward. Bailey, the only player refused a Twitter handle by the RFL, was a man possessed and further endeared himself to the Leeds fans when he charged down Brett Seymour’s kick to win possession and set up the opening try of the game scored by Carl Ablett after Shaun Lunt’s smart assist five yards from the line. Kevin Sinfield, imperious as ever with his right boot, secured the extras to give the Rhinos a 6-0 lead after 13 minutes.
Hull appeared shaken and another error nearly gifted Leeds their second try of the game before the Rhinos capitalised on their best spell of the game to make it 12-0 courtesy of @brettdelaney3 and Sinfield. Delaney crawled over the line on 20 minutes having speared through the Hull defence and left the Leeds captain with an easy conversion attempt. Sinfield was denied a try of his own five minutes later after the video replay identified the slightest of knock-ons before Kevin slid over. The Leeds captain was exerting his influence all over the pitch; best exemplified when he scored a penalty just before half-time having only moments earlier risen highest to collect a high kick from Hull with the away side prepped to swoop in for a try.
The penalty kick ensured a further gap between the two teams with a try before half-time seeming unlikely and showcased Sinfield’s intelligent understanding of the game to give Leeds a greater edge going into the dressing rooms. Five minutes after the restart, the Rhinos went further ahead after a sideways row of passing from right to left ended with Ablett supplying the killer pass for Ryan Hall to march unopposed over the line. Sinfield’s perfect kicking game left the score at 20-0 to the hosts. At this point, Leeds appeared to be cruising but sloppy handling from Ben Jones-Bishop let in Richard Horne for an easy try on 54 minutes. Joe Westerman kicked the extras and suddenly Hull had a route back into the game.
Leeds, however, picked themselves up and Bailey and Sinfield made important tackles as Hull tried to rescue some points to give their wet fans some hope of a comeback. Not only was the Rhinos rearguard holding firm against the frequent attacks but Hull failed to maintain the momentum of their forward moves by making countless handling errors and misjudging kicks on the fifth tackle. It wasn’t to be Hull’s night and Sinfield, capping off a Man of the Match performance, drop-kicked for an extra point with the clock ticking down to give Leeds a thoroughly deserved 21-6 victory.
Next week’s Challenge Cup Semi-Final versus the Wigan Warriors comes sharply into focus now but Leeds can console themselves that they’re in a better position than they were in a month ago for Saturday’s testing encounter. Leeds lie fifth in the Super League standings after their win and will need similar gritty performances with Sinfield leading by example to guide them to an unlikely success as the season moves towards its climax.
Author: Andrew Belt