Leeds Rhinos 34-14 Salford Red Devils: Highlights, player ratings and talking points

Leeds Rhinos and Salford Red Devils served up a cracking affair today at Headingley in a game that proved that if either or both these teams miss out on the play-offs they may just be a little less entertaining.

In an end to end game full of brilliant tries and near misses, it was Leeds’ fast start which proved the difference in the end. It now leaves them inside the top six for the first time this year.

Highlights:

Fast start from the Rhinos
Leeds Rhinos produced an exceptional try in the very first minute of the game though the set seemed really difficult at first as the Rhinos looked to battle out of their own end. Eventually, James Bentley shrugged off Marc Sneyd creating the space for an overlap and two lovely timed passes released David Fusitu’a down the wing. His inside ball found Richie Myler who showed exceptional composure to bounce off a defender before feeding the pass inside for Harry Newman to complete a fantastic try.

Salford nearly bounce back instantly
In the opening few minutes, it felt like either side could score on any set and that was true of Salford in their first set of the game as they powered up field and kicked to the corner. It appeared that Deon Cross had grounded the ball before the deadline but Kallum Watkins was adjudged to have knocked it on as he reached for the ball himself.

Leeds double their money
Proving the point that either side appeared ready to score at any moment, Leeds doubled their money straight after that missed chance from the Red Devils. After moving the ball smartly within the set edging into the Salford half, a brilliant Aidan Sezer kick was poached by Richie Myler who went over to score.

Rhyse Martin with impossible try
After a typically dynamic surge from Harry Newman, there seemed to be space enough for Leeds to get another try. On the next play, Jarrod O’Connor popped the ball short to Rhyse Martin who hit a hard line through a gap. It seemed Salford had wrapped him all up but somehow the Rhinos second-row squeezed the ball down.

Magic hands see Salford hit back
Salford reminded the Rhinos of their threat shortly after that as a Sneyd kick floated around the posts, was patted back allowing Tim Lafai to pop the ball out wide. Another sleak pass this time from Elijah Taylor saw Joe Burgess go over for the try.

Salford score exceptional off the cuff try
The Red Devils well and truly made a game of it with one of the best off the cuff tries you’ll see in Super League this year. After sweeping left, Tim Lafai bounced off defenders to drive towards the posts, though he was stopped he squeezed an offload away. Then another offload and a booming ball out wide later and Ken Sio was darting over in typical fashion.

Both teams denied at either end for different reasons
After letting their grip of the game slip, Leeds needed to score next and looked like they were going to when Cameron Smith burst through. Though the break was stopped short of the line when Leeds were penalised for obstruction. From the next set, Brodie Croft nearly got a quintessential try as he ducked and darted over bust a desperate dive from Mikolaj Oledzki saw him drop the ball short.

Salford pressure tells
The opening eight minutes was a game of Russian roulette from the Rhinos as they routinely invited pressure on their own line with errors and penalties. Eventually, Salford produced the loaded gun as Leeds began to look tired. Brodie Croft dummying through a holey Leeds defence.

Red Devils nearly take the lead with terrific break
Straight after making it 18-14, Salford looked headed for the lead for the first time when Chris Atkins squeezed through. It looked a certain try when he teed up Marc Sneyd but Zak Hardaker produced a desperate ankle tap to stop him. The play was still alive until a floated kick to Ken Sio was fielded virtually on the touchline.

Fusitu’a burst takes Leeds’ lead to six
You’ll rarely see a penalty regarded as a highlight, but the position for these extra two points came courtesy of a brilliant break from David Fusitu’a down the Rhinos right after a dropped ball. He ran 70 metres bouncing off tackles and moments later Leeds were given a penalty which made their lead 20-14.

Leeds soak up the pressure and get try themselves
After soaking up relentless Salford pressure for much of the second half, Leeds extended their lead as Ash Handley did what his fellow winger couldn’t as his intercept saw him race the length of the field to score a vital try. Rhyse Martin’s conversion made it 26-14 to the Rhinos.

Talking Points:

Rhinos show their strengths and weaknesses
When Leeds had the ball and weren’t squandering it, they looked near unstoppable as they punched constant holes in the Salford defence. But as soon as errors crept into the Rhinos’ game, their strangle hold on the game disappeared as Salford’s potent attack were afforded chance after chance and the Rhinos ended up on the back foot. A reminder that this Leeds side although very impressive in spells has work to do in those tough moments to sustain their control over games. Though it should be said that they showed their character to hold on when they welcomed that pressure on their line.

A game of momentum
Ever since the six again rule sped up our great game, the notion of momentum has become even more key and this game emphasised that. Leeds started with great pace punching through Salford brilliantly and scoring three brilliant tries. However, soon it was Salford who were playing with speed as Leeds looked like the lacked energy in the next half an hour. It was the Red Devils who looked like they’d had the extra day’s rest at this stage.

Credit the Red Devils
As Salford welcomed back Shane Wright today, it marked the first time in months that the Red Devils were able to recall a long term injured player with them having to do with squads of 18 for a long stretch recently. Oddly, this has been their best stretch of the season and it didn’t look like ending today as Salford looked like the side with more energy despite the strain put on them recently, the need to play two pivots on the bench and the loss of Sam Luckley to HIA. Whatever Salford are doing behind the scenes is definitely working.

The game of the season so far?
This might just have been the game of the season so far. There were plenty of great tries from both teams but also there could have been even more with both sides having to endure those dreaded nearly moments. There were certainly plenty of desperate tackles from Leeds with Zak Hardaker coming up with two, Mikolaj Oledzki with one in the first half and plenty more as Salford knocked on the door in the second half. In truth these may just be the two best attacking sides in the league at present and it showed in the end to end game we got as both teams expressed themselves on every play. In the end the scoreline didn’t quite reflect the game.

Rhinos character in defence prevails
It seems strange to credit Leeds’ defence on a day when they were routinely carved open up the middle by probing runs from Brodie Croft and Chris Atkin, but Leeds character to scramble back was unquestionable. Zak Hardaker produced two top cover tackles at fullback and he wasn’t alone. Leeds’ goal line defence really stood up against arguably the league’s most in form attack today too, an attack that scored 44 points against the Champions last week.

Player Ratings:

Leeds Rhinos
33 Zak Hardaker – 8
2 David Fusitu’a – 7
3 Harry Newman – 8
4 Liam Sutcliffe – 7
5 Ash Handley – 8
16 Richie Myler – 7
7 Aidan Sezer – 7
8 Mikolaj Oledzki – 8
24 Jarrod O’Connor – 7
19 Bodene Thompson – 8
11 James Bentley – 8
12 Rhyse Martin – 8
17 Cameron Smith – 8
Substitutes
13 Zane Tetevano – 7
14 Brad Dwyer – 7
21 Morgan Gannon – 6
22 Sam Walters – 6

Salford Red Devils
23 Dan Sarginson – 7
2 Ken Sio – 7
28 Deon Cross – 7
4 Tim Lafai – 8
5 Joe Burgess – 8
6 Brodie Croft – 8
7 Marc Sneyd – 7
8 Sitaleki Akauola – 6
9 Andy Ackers – 7
19 Jack Ormondroyd – 7
13 Elijah Taylor – 6
3 Kallum Watkins – 7
29 Alex Gerrard – 7
Substitutes
1 Ryan Brierley – 7
11 Shane Wright – 7
18 Chris Atkin – 8
26 Sam Luckley – 6

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