Leeds all but sewed up a home semi-final as they battled past Challenge Cup winners Hull in a ding-dong battle – eventually prevailing 38-26.
In the first game at Headingley since development work started on the South Stand, there was a somewhat subdued atmosphere before the game but that soon changed.
The home side came out with their tails up and they went ahead when Rob Burrow’s kick was fumbled by Fetuli Talanoa in an aerial contest with Tom Briscoe, with the diminutive pivot first to react and ground the loose ball over the line.
Despite referee James Child sending it up as no try, the decision was reversed by the video referee, with Kallum Watkins adding the extras to make it 6-0.
The Airlie Birds quickly responded after a fantastic flat ball from Albert Kelly led to a Mahe Fonua break, he then sent the returning Steve Michaels into the right corner (13), newly crowned Lance Todd Winner Marc Sneyd duly adding the two points to level the scores.
Leeds countered immediately and after continued pressure on Hull’s line, a well weighted ball from Stevie Ward was met at pace by Brad Singleton (17) as the big forward crashed over, Watkins converting to reestablish the Rhinos six-point lead.
In a game of early points for both sides, the visitors hit back again as Scott Taylor crashed over after neat footwork and some poor defence (21), Sneyd accurate with the boot to level the scores once more.
A key moment developed within the opening 25 minutes as FC captain Gareth Ellis was sin-binned for an illegal tackle on Stevie Ward, applying pressure to the neck with a crusher tackle.
The home side took advantage of the numerical difference as Liam Sutcliffe rand onto a superb flat ball from Burrow (29), Watkins expertly converting to make it 18-12.
Hull were given a penalty in front of the sticks shortly afterwards and Sneyd chose to reduce his team’s the deficit to four while his team were a man light.
However, the Rhinos continued to take advantage of the away side’s ill discipline and Mitch Garbutt crashed over with a questionable grounding after a video referee decision (36).
Watkins again added the conversion to leave the Rhinos in the ascendancy at 24-14 going into half-time.
Hull rallied in the second-half and another smart ball from Kelly near the line allowed Danny Washbrook to show great strength to crash over Ryan Hall to score (45), Sneyd adding the goal to narrow the deficit to 24-20.
Despite their best efforts, Hull were opened up by the evasive Jack Walker, who broke down the left edge before releasing Adam Cuthbertson for another score (48), Watkins maintaining his 100% record with the boot to extend the home side’s lead to 30-20.
In a physical encounter, both sides went in hard with the hits and Burrow was lucky not to be punished for an alleged headbutt on Jake Connor.
FC took advantage of the resulting penalty and Sneyd released Josh Bowden near the line for a vital score (61), the architect for the try accurate with the kick to narrow the scoreline to 32-26.
A high shot from Jordan Thompson on his own line gave Leeds a great chance to establish an eight-point lead, but Watkins missed the kick from out wide.
However he wouldn’t be denied a second time and slotted over a penalty (71) to give the Rhinos a vital 34-26 lead.
Matt Parcell crowned a convincing victory for Leeds running on to a chipped kick from McGuire to touch down (78), Watkins unable to convert as the Rhinos ran out convincing 38 – 26 winners.
The result consolidates the Rhinos in second, where they now look likely to finish. Hull on the other hand will be hoping not to get dragged into a battle for the final two playoff places.
Leeds: Walker, Briscoe, Watkins, Sutcliffe, Hall, McGuire, Burrow, Cuthbertson, Parcell, Singleton, Ward, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett. Interchange: Mullally, Garbutt, Delaney, Keinhorst.
Hull: Shaul, Michaels, Fonua, Tuimavave, Talanoa, Kelly, Sneyd, Taylor, Houghton, Bowden, Turgut, Manu, Ellis. Interchange: Thompson, Fash, Connor, Washbrook.