Betfred Super League Round 21
Leeds Rhinos 6 Leigh Leopards 13
John Woods was in his prime when Leigh last tasted victory over Leeds at Headingley. On one glorious April midweek evening in 1984 he produced a Rugby League masterpiece, scoring all his side’s points, with three tries and six goals, as Leigh won 24-18 in the old Slalom Lager Championship.
Over 39 years later Woods was back at Headingley, this time as a spectator among the 12,785 crowd as the Leopards notched another record in this amazing season, recording that long awaited victory at arguably the most iconic venue in Rugby League.
Six days before Wembley it was a superb performance by the Leopards to record their 14th win in 21 Super League outings and open up a 10-point gap on their hosts, last season’s grand finalists.
In a tough, defence dominated game, the Leopards dug deep, displaying the resilience and team spirit so evident throughout the campaign.
They restricted the Rhinos to just one try, Jarrod O’Connor burrowing over from close range five minutes before half-time, which, with Rhyse Martin’s conversion gave the home side a slender 6-4 lead.
Edwin Ipape had opened the scoring, blasting through the short-range cover and fellow front rower Tom Amone had the Leopards back in front within five minutes of the re-start with another short distance effort, Ben Reynolds converting.
Reynolds extended the visitors’ lead with a penalty midway through the second half with the Rhinos already down to 12 men with Sam Lisone in the sin bin for a trip.
O’Connor looked to have scored his second try, after diving over the line in a massed tackle with nine minutes remaining. Referee Marcus Griffiths went to the screen signalling that in his opinion it was a try, but video referee Liam Moore spotted that O’Connor had lost possession of the ball in the act of scoring.
Gareth O’Brien’s dropgoal sealed the Leopards’ win.
Adrian Lam reported a clean bill of health after the game and revealed that though Zak Hardaker and Josh Charnley missed the game with niggling injuries they will be fine for Wembley.
Tom Nisbet came in on the wing and had a fine game while Oliver Gildart impressed on debut.
Kai O’Donnell was “awesome” said Lam on his return from suspension while the front row of Amone, Ipape and Robbie Mulhern again laid the foundations for victory. Mulhern was a worthy recipient of Sky’s Player of the Match.
“We wanted to respect the Super League competition and where we are in the table,” Lam said. “It was a really big game for us where we sit on the ladder and we didn’t want to give it up easily.
“We have kept the momentum going and everyone’s got through so we’re very pleased.
“We spoke about being in contention with 15 minutes left and that’s what we were. They had eight sets more than us and a lot of six against in the first half but a couple of lucky bounces in that second half got the job done.”
Leeds: Hooley; Macdonald, Roberts, Martin, Handley; Johnson, Sezer; Oledzki, O’Connor, Holroyd, Bentley, McDonnell, C. Smith. Bench: Lisone, Donaldson, Sinfield, Sangare.
Leeds: Try O’Connor (35); Goal: Martin 1/ 1
Leigh: O’Brien; Briscoe, Chamberlain, Gildart, Nisbet; Reynolds, Lam; Amone, Ipape, Mulhern, O’Donnell, Hughes, Asiata. Bench: Mellor, Wardle, Seumanufagai, Davis.
Leigh: Tries Ipape (23), Amone (45); Goals: Reynolds 2/3; Dropgoal: O’Brien
Referee: Marcus Griffiths. Attendance: 12,785. Half-time: 6-4.