Leeds Rhinos are now inside the top six for the first time this season so their play-off dream is well and truly alive.
What should also give the Rhinos heart is the fact that their win today now means relegation is officially off the table despite it being a very real threat at the start of Rohan Smith’s tenure.
After the game Smith was very proud of his side and their ability to find a different way of winning.
“Yeah I’m pleased with the win,” Smith said, “We’ve spoken a lot about finding different ways to win and they’re a hype team who play a lot of attacking rugby so we knew we had to be good.
“I don’t think the score line was a reflection of the battle of the game but I thought the better team won too.”
Leeds led 18-0 thanks to a terrific start as Harry Newman scored a spectacular four pointer before Richie Myler and Rhyse Martin got Leeds further ahead. After that Leeds’ control eroded but the Rhinos showed good character to hold on.
Assessing this sea-saw of a contest, Smith said crediting Leeds’ defence in holding on: “Yeah we lost the ball in contact a few times back to back to back and that added to our defensive burden but we were reasonably connected there and we were able turn them away often enough.”
As aforementioned, Leeds have now taken a spot in the top six for the first time but Smith continues to avoid any talk of the table saying: “Two points was what we were after today and that’s the weekly battle is to get ready for the next opportunity.”
He then went on to reveal when he would finally look at the ladder: “After the last round. At this point in time it’s not helpful to be looking at the ladder.
“We’re in a position where we have control over the situation.”
It also sounds like Leeds’ mentality won’t change despite them now being in control of their own destiny with Smith saying: “My sickness or disease is that I’m chasing a perfect game or performance and I know that’ll never come but that’s my weekly challenge.”
The big moment in the game was indeed Ash Handley’s intercept. If he misses it, Salford could level it with a try of their own instead Leeds moved 26-14 ahead.
However, Smith believed Leeds’ overall defence was the real key to victory: “It’s always speculative to say how big a play that was. We were in good defensive shape at the time and in front and it obviously helped us out on the scoreboard.
“It was the result of good defensive connection there.”
Though he credited the Leeds defence he acknowledged that Leeds “dodged a few bullets” with fullback Zak Hardaker coming up with some big tackles.
“They poked their nose through more times than we’d like,” Smith noted, “But they’re a highly skilled team and they’re backing themselves as their form shows they’ve been hard to handle.”
It was a real battle despite the scoreline as Smith himself acknowledged and it had a few casualties with James Bentley possibly one of them: “James Bentley was fine to continue but we had an interchange left so we used it.”
Though Sam Walters wasn’t despite his short stint: “I was only after a short shift there from Sam. Mikolaj Oledzki played the whole first half again today with that heavy workload that some middles are getting through that fourth person on the bench is just there for a cameo.”
Smith also gave an update on James Donaldson who missed the game through injury: “He’s okay I think. He wasn’t right to play today but I imagine he’ll be good pretty soon.”
Despite some knocks, Smith believes the Rhinos came through unscathed: “Yeah we had a couple but nothing much in those.”
Smith’s first game in charge was many moons ago against Salford in a defeat.
Today Leeds looked like a different animal to that side and when asked about the transition Smith noted that his pride was more in the way Leeds found a way to win: “Both teams have come a long way in that period of time. Salford are a good team and very well coached.
“I spoke to the team when I first got here about being willing to win different ways. I do like to encourage people to pass the ball and play as a team and help to not be too rigid in how we play but today I think it was our defence more than anything.
“Being able to lean on your defence is absolutely critical in the big games. I love the defensive side of the game as well as the attack. Some weeks you’re not going to get all aspects of your game at the standard that you want but today we got enough of our attack and enough D to be the better team.”