Each game was becoming a must win for most sides in Super League as we approach the end of the 2023 season, none more so than the Leeds Rhinos and Warrington Wolves, the Rhinos to keep alive their hopes of a play-off position and the Wolves to try and revitalise a season which has been in freefall after a fabulous start.
The Rhinos had their eye on eighth spot, the Wolves on consolidating their fifth place in the race for the playoffs but it was anyone´s game as both sides came into the encounter on the back of poor runs of form.
The sun was out at Emerald Headingley as a decent Sunday afternoon crowd gathered.
With a couple of seconds over two minutes on the clock the visitors got off to the best possible start as Matt Dufty chased his own kick on the ten-metre line to gather and ground in a single move by the left corner flag. Stefan Ratchford was unable to add the conversion, but Warrington were 4-0 ahead.
Josh Thewlis had a try ruled out on nine minutes for a foot in touch, the Wolves dominating the eary exchanges.
Leeds were easing themselves back into a game after being a clear second best for the opening fifteen minutes and after the Rhinos were awarded two quick penalties on the Wolves ten metre line on twenty-two Sam Walters took a Cameron Smith short ball to walk through the line and ground by the uprights. Rhyse Martin added the conversion, and the Rhinos had the lead.
Returning the kick-off, a brilliant Dufty break from on his own ten saw the full back draw the Leeds tacklers before passing inside to Matty Ashton to go over unopposed. This time Ratchford was on target for a 10-6 Warrington lead.
Within a minute Danny Walker bombed another Wolves try as the ball slipped from his grasp with the line begging. The game was being played at a million miles an hour.
The Rhinos trailed by four points at half time, a big forty minutes lay ahead for the Rhinos.
The first scoring action of the second half came from the boot of Ratchford as he slotted over a penalty which had been awarded for a high tackle on Daryl Clark on forty-two.
On forty-nine minutes David Fusitu’a jumped to take an Aidan Sezer kick to the corner, dropping to the ground and scoring to the delight of the crowd in the Eastern Terrace. Martin added the conversion, and the sides were locked together again at 12-12.
A delightful flowing move from the Wolves on fifty-four saw George Williams feed Ratchford for the the Warrington career man to dive in and silence the Rhinos faithful. Ratchford pushed his conversion wide of the uprights, the Wolves four point ahead.
A Rhinos mistake from the kick-off, Luke Hooley putting his kick out on the full, the Wolves were back on the front foot.
Once again, the Rhinos were level on sixty-one, Hooley being on hand to take the Sezer pass, which looked suspiciously forwards, to scamper over and score under the sticks. Martin added the conversion, and the Rhinos took an 18-16 lead.
Leeds blitzed the Wolves on sixty-nine with some sensational offloads after a Cameron Smith break down the idle. A brilliant offload from a falling Nene MacDonald went to the hands of James Bentley to take two paces and dot down. Martin added the conversion for daylight between the sides at 24-16.
The Wolves weren’t done when with six minutes remaining Matty Nicholson collected a Josh Drinkwater dink through the Leeds line to go over from five metres out. Ratchford added the extras and all that separated the two sides was two points with five minutes remaining. Nails were being bitten around the ground.
Entering the final couple of minutes, Dufty broke for the line but as he was tackled he offloaded, right not the hands of Ash Handley and in the dying seconds Dufty was unable to get a hand on a grubber which would have sealed the win for the Wolves, the Rhinos holding on for a precious two points which lifted the Rhinos into eighth, two points behind the Wolves who remain fifth.
A fabulous game which saw the lead switch on multiple occasions, the Rhinos riding the crest of a vociferous home support to snatch the win and extend their season. The Wolves devastatingly poor form continues, and they look increasingly perilous in their quest for the play-offs.
Leeds Rhinos: Hooley (T), Fusitu’a (T), Martin (4G), MacDonald, Handley, Johnson Sezer, Oledzki, O’Connor, Walters (T), McDonnell, Bentley (T), Smith. Subs: Newman, Lisone, Donaldson, Holroyd. 18th Man: Ruan.
Warrington Wolves: Dufty (T), Thewlis, Mata’utia, Ratchford (T, 3G), Ashton (T), Williams, Drinkwater, Mikaele, Walker, Vaughan, Currie, Nicholson (T), Crowther. Subs: Harrison, Clark, Philbin, Dudson. 18th Man: Bullock.
Score Progression: 0-4, 4-4, 6-4, 6-8, 6-10 : HT: 6-12, 10-12, 12-12, 12-16, 16-16, 18-16, 22-16, 24-16, 24-20, 24-22 :FT.
Lead Exchanges: Warrington – Square – Leeds – Warrington – Square – Warrington – Square - Leeds.
Referee: Ben Thaler.