Super League: Leeds Rhinos edge out Salford Red Devils
Last Updated: 25/07/14 11:09pm
Leeds overcame the absence of Kevin Sinfield to maintain their challenge for top spot in Super League with a 22-18 success that brought Salford's three-match winning run to an end.
The Rhinos' victory keeps them just two points behind leaders St Helens but deals a major blow to the play-off hopes of the Red Devils, who are now four points behind eighth-placed Widnes with five matches left.
In addition to the suspended Sinfield, Leeds were also without forwards Brett Delaney, Ryan Bailey and Mitch Achurch through injury but their youthful bench players showed they were up to the task as they held off a strong challenge from their in-form hosts, who lost star full-back Kevin Locke with a back injury before half-time.
The absence of Sinfield paved the way for Leeds to turn back the clock by reuniting Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow in the halves and it was the scurrying Burrow who produced the first break of the match.
That came to nothing, however, and it was Salford who opened the scoring on 12 minutes when centre Junior Sa'u beat Ryan Hall to the ball after Locke had threaded it through the visitors defence to claim his 11th try of the season.
Josh Griffin's conversion made it 6-0 but Leeds struck a purple patch to go 12-6 ahead.
Full-back Zak Hardaker dived full length to ground the ball from McGuire's stabbed kick before centre Kallum Watkins finished off a spectacular 60-metre move started by hooker Paul Aiton and continued by winger Tom Briscoe.
Hardaker added both goals but the Red Devils finished the first half the stronger side, despite losing Locke five minutes before the break.
Scrum-half Theo Fages had a try disallowed for a forward pass but he was not denied shortly afterwards after winning the chase to Rangi Chase's kick to the line and Griffin tied the scores with his second conversion.
There was little to choose between the sides but another momentum shift early in the second half saw Leeds open up a 10-point advantage.
Second rower Carl Ablett twisted and turned out of a three-man tackle to score one of his trademark opportunist tries and Stevie Ward scythed through the Salford defence for another after a break by fellow substitute Liam Sutcliffe had set up field position.
Salford, too, enjoyed significant impact from the bench, with Niall Evalds slotting nicely into Locke's position and forward Jordan Walne getting his side back in the game by taking Chase's drop-off pass to score his first try of the season.
Griffin's third goal meant there was just four points in it and it stayed that way after Hardaker missed with a 40-metre penalty kick at goal.
That was the signal for the Red Devils to launch one last effort and Sa'u went on a rampaging run for the line only to lose the ball in Hardaker's tackle.