Another weekend of scintillating action in the Betfred Super League kicked off with an exhilarating clash between local rivals Leeds Rhinos and Castleford Tigers at Headingley on Thursday night with both teams desperate for the win.
Having won only one match all season, the pressure was very much on the Rhinos as they aimed to find some form to move forward under new head coach Dave Furner while Castleford were reeling from a shocking performance last time out against St Helens. Leeds started the better of the two in the opening match of the round and powerful centre Konrad Hurrell opened the scoring less than five minutes into the match, running it in from 20m out and beating three would-be tacklers to ground. Liam Sutcliffe’s conversion attempt from the touchline hit the post – as did Peter Mata’utia with his attempt after Liam Watts levelled the scores, dummying over from close range on the last tackle. Watts’ score came after Hurrell and Briscoe saw tries disallowed by the video referee through obstruction and a Kallum Watkins knock on respectively but the Rhinos did take the lead once more after Hurrell drew both Greg Minikin and winger James Clare to him, allowing the Tongan to release Ash Handley to dive over from close range. Another Sutcliffe conversion attempt hit the post but the England Knights squad member did stretch the lead with a late first-half penalty.
Quickfire tries either side of the 50 minute mark stretched the Rhinos’ lead as they took control of the match, Sutcliffe first finishing off good work from Walker after a Watkins break before Trent Merrin was given the simplest of finishes after an excellent Brad Dwyer offload basically on the line. Leading 20-4 after 53 minutes, Leeds looked to be in control but Castleford roared back with tries through Minikin and former Rhino Chris Clarkson. When Alex Foster excellently grounded a Mata’utia grubber, the Tigers had scored three tries in eleven minutes and, had Calum Turner converted the last of those, Castleford would have taken the lead. However, with ten minutes remaining the scores were level with twenty points apiece.
Then referee Ben Thaler made a huge call. With Jake Trueman having kicked a drop goal, the official brought the play back for a Leeds penalty, Watts adjudged to have illegally blocked a would-be charge down. From the resultant penalty, though, Sutcliffe failed to make touch and, at the end of the set, Trueman’s second drop-goal attempt missed to the left. The final set of the match, though, saw a poor decision by Paul McShane arguably cost the Tigers another Headingley win. With seconds remaining and Cas yards from Leeds’ line, the hooker opted to go for the try line rather than tee Trueman up for another drop goal attempt. He fell short and the Rhinos saw out the last play of the match, golden point set to decide the match – the first time such an occasion was screened live on Sky Sports. On the first set of the first period, Leeds made good ground but, when Dwyer shaped to kick for a drop goal from over 40m, not many thought it would sail through. It, however, did – a flat effort was hardly conventional but that didn’t matter. The hooker’s incredible effort will no doubt be one of the moments of the season and the Rhinos had secured only their second victory of the season and their first Headingley triumph over the Tigers since 2013, winning 21-20. For the Tigers, it was certainly a much-improved performance from their showing against St Helens.
As close as Thursday night’s televised match was, Friday’s clash between Hull FC and Warrington Wolves was anything but. Steve Price’s visitors to the KCOM Stadium were simply too good for the Airlie Birds as they hammered Lee Radford’s men 63-12 – a record home defeat for FC. Blake Austin and Josh Charnley led the way for Warrington, scoring four and three tries respectively and they never looked like losing. With three of Austin’s efforts coming in an impressive first period, Warrington led 34-6 at the break with only a late first half score from Albert Kelly saving the Hull side from going into the sheds scoreless. The second half saw the Wolves continue their impressive play – aided by poor defence from the home team – with Ben Murdoch-Masila joining Austin and Charnley on the scoreboard before the returning Tom Lineham added a brace against his former team. Warrington continued their impressive form and Austin added a humiliating drop goal to extend the Wolves lead and consign Hull FC to their heaviest ever home reverse – better, though, than their 80-10 defeat to Warrington at the Halliwell Jones last season.
The second Friday night match saw the unbeaten – and much changed – St Helens host Hull KR and, after the game was in the balance around the hour mark, Justin Holbrook’s league leaders pulled clear thereafter, ultimately triumphing 36-24 at the Totally Wicked Stadium. Leaving star men like James Roby and Alex Walmsley out, Saints started fast and raced into an 16-0 lead with tries from the impressive Lachlan Coote, Luke Thompson and youngster Jack Welsby. The Robins, however, went into half-time ahead as they hit back through a Kane Linnett brace on his return to the team and a Will Oakes try. Shaun Lunt, again featuring from the bench as he returns from illness, scored his first try of the season to extend their lead but St Helens reacted well. Kyle Amor closed the gap before a converted Aaron Smith – deputising for Roby – try put Holbrook’s men back in command. A late Regan Grace effort sealed the victory and maintained St Helens’ 100% record having won each of their eight matches so far.
Sunday afternoon saw three Super League matches with Wigan Warriors’ 42-0 victory over Catalans being arguably the most eye-catching and, for the Dragons, the most embarrassing. Only 8-0 at half-time, Adrian Lam’s Warriors belied their lowly league standing, displaying confidence and quality as they dispatched with the French outfit. Joe Burgess stole the show with a hat-trick on his second appearance back after injury with George Williams – strongly linked with an exit to Canberra Raiders – Oliver Gildart, Jarrod Samutt and Zak Hardaker crossing for tries. Hardaker also added seven goals to go with his first try in cherry and white. Post-match, Steve McNamara remarked that his Dragons team aren’t anywhere near where they need to be if they want to compete for silverware this season. For Sam Tomkins – on his return to the DW Stadium after leaving Wigan for Perpignan in the off-season – it was a terrible return to familiar surroundings and he will be hoping that he and his Dragons team can hit back in May when the two teams meet again in the Nou Camp.
Wakefield Trinity, like Wigan, added another two points to their season tally in high-scoring affair at the Mobile Rocket Stadium, triumphing 33-22 over Salford Red Devils. David Fifita and Niall Evalds exchanged early tries before Ryan Hampshire and Reece Lyne put Trinity in command. Once Kris Welham’s effort for Salford was met by a Pauli Pauli score before half-time, Trinity led 24-10 at the break. After Jacob Miller’s score shortly after the fifty minute mark was converted via Danny Brough’s trusty left boot, Wakefield led 30-10 – but they needed the calming influence of Brough to see them through after a big push by Salford brought them back into the game. Winger Derrell Olpherts and the talismanic Jackson Hastings gave Salford a chance before Brough sealed the victory for Chris Chester’s Trinity with a penalty and a drop goal in the latter stages of the match.
There was another high scoring contest in London but, despite scoring 26 points, the Broncos fell to defeat at the hands of Huddersfield who ultimately won 26-38. An early try from Joe Wardle was immediately cancelled out through an Alex Walker score before the Giants added four more tries (Turner, Uate, McGillvary and Ikahihifo) before captain Jay Pitts scored London’s second try of the match. In an entertaining encounter in the capital, Danny Ward’s men wouldn’t let Huddersfield win this game easily and improved in the second half with wingers Rhys Williams and Kieran Dixon (2) keeping the Broncos in the game. Uate and Alex Mellor, however, ensured that Simon Woolford’s Giants won their third match of the season. London, as a result, dropped to 11th but are also on six points along with Huddersfield, Wigan and Hull KR.