Following back to back losses to the Catalans Dragons, the Leeds Rhinos had what looked like, on paper, a simpler fixture as they welcomed strugglers Salford Red Devils to Headingley and a full unrestricted crowd for the first time since the start of the COVID epidemic.
For the Red Devils Ata Hingano was given his debut with a start from the bench while the Rhinos welcomed back King Vuniyayawa and kicker Rhyse Martin but were without the services of Luke Gale, Mikolaj Oledzki and Tom Holroyd.
Neither sides league position would benefit from a win but for both it would increase the buffer over the chasing clubs and for Salford it could be the win that finally secures their safety in Superleague as it would leave the Leigh Centurions requiring five emphatic wins from their remaining games to catch them up.
The Rhinos had a terrific start with Harry Newman completing a move by taking an Alex Mellor pass to dive over in the corner. Rhyse Martin added the touchline conversion for a 6-0 lead after eight minutes.
After regaining the ball from the kick-off, the Rhinos were in again when Newman made a half break before the ball was moved wide to Kruise Leeming to go in at the corner. Martin was again accurate with the boot and after ten minutes the Rhinos were 12-0 ahead.
A tip tackle from Seb Ikahihifo gifted Leeds the opportunity to kick a penalty goal from in front of the uprights and Martin gladly accepted the invitation to push the Rhinos lead to fourteen points.
Leemings second came on thirty-two when the Rhinos went down the right-hand side with Richie Myler drawing the defenders and passing to the supporting hooker to run in unopposed. Martin added the conversion for a 20-0 lead.
There must have been an awful feeling of déjà vu for the Rhinos when Morgan Escare broke the Leeds line and found Ken Sio in space to score. Krisnan Inu couldn’t add the touchline conversion leaving the Red Devils sixteen adrift.
Leeds were given a penalty on forty-nine and when Tui Lolohea expressed his disgust to referee Thaler he saw yellow and was sent to the sin-bin for ten minutes. Within a minute Ikahihifo joined him on the long walk after another altercation as tempers frayed once again.
It was only a matter of time before the eleven men shipped in more points and they came at the hands of Callum McLellend on fifty-six when the stretched Salford defence opened up in front of him. Martin added the conversion to push the Rhinos into a 26-4 lead.
King Vuniyayawa found a massive gap in the defensive line as he went in from twenty metres out. Once again Martin was on target with the boot, the Rhinos opening up a big gap.
A Sio break saw him put in a cross-field kick before being tackled down with Lolohea, just back on the field, picking up the ball to go over for Salford’s second of the night. Inu added the try from the touchline to bring up double figures.
Matt Prior, celebrating a new deal, scored on seventy-four as he crawled over the line to score a try from nothing. Martin added the goal for 38-10 but a couple of minutes later Inu went in for a late consolation which saw Myler sin-binned for a trip. He added the extras with two minutes remaining as the Rhinos cruised to the two points.
Richard Agar won’t be happy with the way that the Rhinos ended the game but will be delighted that they have returned to winning ways after a two-week blip. It was another bad-tempered affair between the two sides which may keep the officials at the RFL busy again early next week. In the end the expansive play from the Rhinos was way too much for the Red Devils defence to contain as they piled on the points but still leaked plenty through a patchy defence.
Leeds Rhinos: Myler (SB on 76), Briscoe T, Newman (T), Hurrell, Handley, Sutcliffe L, McLelland (T), Vuniyayawa (T), Leeming (2T), Prior (T), Mellor, Martin (6G), O’Connor. Subs: Dwyer, Briscoe L, Donaldson, Smith.
Salford Red Devils: Escare, Sio (T), Inu (G), Livett, Williams, Lolohea (T, SB on 49), Atkin, Mossop, Ackers, Ormondtoyd, Wells, Pauli, Lannon. Subs: Hingano, Ikahihifo (SB on 50), Luckley, Roberts.
Referee: Ben Thaler.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, 10-0, 12-0, 14-0, 18-0, 20-0 : HT : 20-4, (SB), (SB), 24-4, 26-4, 30-4, 32-4, 32-8, 32-10, 36-10, 38-10, 38-14, (SB) 38-16 : FT.