On a warm spring evening, after the pitch had been christened by afternoon rainfall, two of last year’s semi-finalists met in the battle of the entertainers as Rohan Smith’s Leeds Rhinos met Paul Rowley’s Salford Red Devils.
Almost a year to the day that Smith took charge of his first game as Leeds boss away to the Red Devils and on his birthday, it was Leeds who gifted the Red Devils the first chance and had the pitch been a metre wider Rhys Williams would have grounded Ryan Brierley’s grubber – an early warning sign for the usually slow starting Rhinos who were two tries down in the blink of an eye last weekend.
The vast majority for the first quarter was played in the Leeds end as errors invited pressure and it would tell with a lovely Marc Sneyd kick forcing Blake Austin into action as he held back former Leeds skipper Kallum Watkins and was sent to the sin bin.
In the very next set, Salford exploited the numbers with a lovely passing move allowing Rhys Williams to score in the corner.
As the pressure was building Leeds were lucky to keep 12 men on the field after a tip tackle but they were again punished by the penalty with Sam Stone powering over to make it 12-0 against the the 12 men Rhinos.
It had been a poor first 27 minutes for Leeds but link up between Nene MacDonald and Harry Newman saw them burst into life then an offload to Jack Sinfield saw the youngster break. His kick was then nearly inch perfect for Richie Myler to score but the fullback couldn’t grasp it cleanly.
The Rhinos again thought they had scored after some brilliant runs down the centre of the field they earnt a penalty and a pass back inside from Blake Austin opened up space for James Bentley who powered over but according to referee Jack Smith knocked on over the line.
Leeds were now the team on top but points weren’t coming. This time after a Myler break Leeds looked destined to score with Salford in disarray but as Leeds attacked the found the whitewash but only in the shape of the touchline.
The Rhinos were at their attacking best and a jinking run from Harry Newman saw him make a half break before offloading to Sam Walters, he kept the ball alive finding James Bentley whose offload ultimately allowed Myler to cross against his former club.
It was a further case of missed opportunities for Leeds as an inside ball set Myler through from Cameron Smith but Austin couldn’t take his offload. Credit to Salford, their scramble was sensational.
From the very next set, an inch perfect kick from Marc Sneyd allowed the Red Devils to trap Ash Handley in goal and the goal line drop out went out on the full and from that Sneyd nailed the penalty to make it 14-6.
More errors and ill-discipline from the Rhinos was handing Salford the initiative and another superb kick gave the Red Devils the lead. Brodie Croft drilling the ball across to Ellis Longstaff to score. The Red Devils led 20-6 with 23 minutes left.
It was becoming a case of Leeds being their own worst enemy as another penalty followed by dissent gave Sneyd the chance to make it 22-6.
Leeds needed a response and after a short kick off they got one. In so many years gone by we’ve seen a Sinfield kick lead to a try and his floated chip to the corner was tapped back and James Bentley squeezed in at the corner.
That gave Leeds hope and the Rhinos had some venomous attacks but they were often undercut by errors and yet more penalties as Salford held on for a famous win without some key players.