It´s round twenty-four and in 2022 the crucial games just keep on coming. Tonight’s game at Emerald Headingley had the Leeds Rhinos needing a win to move above the Castleford Tigers into fifth spot, while Warrington Wolves came into the game knowing that a victory would guarantee their survival in the topflight after an awful season, so long as Wigan beat Toulouse.
Leeds coach Rohan Smith was relieved that he had Sezer, Bentley, Martin and Prior all back in his line up, softening the blow that the inspirational Harry Newman was out for the rest of the season. Daryl Powell was without talisman Stefan Ratchford due to concussion protocols and was forced into giving debuts to Luke Thomas and Adam Holroyd, both on the bench, as he battled his own injury crisis.
The bookies thought that the points were the Rhinos, on the back of a four-game winning run, as they gave the Wolves a ten point start on the coupon after they had only registered one win in their last five outings, and that against the bottom side Toulouse Olympique XIII.
It took the Rhinos just five minutes, on their first foray into the Wolves half with Richie Myler putting in the last ball to Ash Handley to score by the uprights. It was the perfect start and as Rhyse Martin added the extras the lead was 6-0.
The Wolves got their first on twelve when Riley Dean put in a grubber and picked up the ricochet to slide in for the equalising try, Peter Mata´utia added the conversion to level the scores.
A high tackle on Zane Tetevano gave the Rhinos six tackles ten from the Warrington line and on the second tackle Martin crashed through the Wolves line off a James Bentley offload to get the ball on the ground. Martin added the conversion, the Rhinos with a 12-6 lead.
Brute strength from Morgan Gannon saw the young Rhinos second rower create a try from nothing on twenty-five. Martin was again accurate with the boot for an 18-6 lead, the Wolves struggling to get any traction.
On the stroke of half time Matt Dufty failed to take a Blake Austin high kick and Tetevano was on hand to collect the loose ball and score under the sticks. Martin added his fourth kick of the evening, and the Rhinos took a comfortable 24-6 lead into the interval.
It was a good start to the second half for the Wolves after a couple of Rhinos Mistakes. Bentley shot out of the line and Warrington moved the ball quickly with Jake Wardle being the one to cross. Mata´utia added the touchline conversion, the deficit down to two converted tries.
The Wolves were dominating play and keeping the Rhinos pinned deep inside their own half.
On seventy the Wolves were back within a score when Ben Currie was on hand to take a grubber and dive in for the third Warrington try of the night. Mata´utia added the extras for 18-24, it was game on.
Leeds were now hanging on, a clear second best in a second half where they´d not registered a score but shipped in twelve.
The Rhinos knocked on close to their own twenty with five minutes remaining, but George Williams lost the ball with the try line begging. A pressure relieving Leeds penalty with three-minute left on the clock and the Rhinos handed the ball over deep in the Wolves twenty.
The Rhinos managed to run down the clock in the dying seconds to take a nervous win, and climb up to fifth spot with their fifth consecutive league win, just at the right time in the season. Warrington can also breathe easier as Toulouse took a big beating at Wigan, meaning that whilst still mathematically possible for Warrington to be relegated, their vastly superior points difference means that they are safe.
Leeds Rhinos: Myler, Handley (T), Sutcliffe, Hardaker, Tindall, Sezer, Austin, Oledzki, O´Connor, Tetevano (T), Gannon (T), Martin (T, 4G), Bentley. Subs: Smith, Dwyer, Prior, Walters.
Warrington Wolves: Dufty, Minikin, Mata´utia (3G), Wardle (T), Ashton, Williams, Dean (T), Mulhern, Walker, Bullock, Currie (T), Harrison, Holmes. Subs: Clark D, Clark J, Holroyd, Thomas.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, 6-4, 6-6, 10-6, 12-6, 16-6, 18-6, 22-6, 24-6 : HT : 24-10, 24-12, 24-16, 24-18 : FT.
Lead Exchanges: Leeds – Square - Leeds.
Referee: Marcus Griffiths.