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Super League: Leeds Rhinos go fourth with Widnes win
Leeds overcame the absence of nine regulars to beat Widnes 38-28 in Monday night's rearranged Super League fixture at Headingley.
The host of absentees included captain Kevin Sinfield, whose dislocated thumb brought to an end his 97-match run going back almost three years.
Sinfield's stand-off role was taken by teenager Liam Sutcliffe, who scored the game-clinching try five minutes from the end, while winger Ben Jones-Bishop made a fairytale return to the Leeds side after recovering from an eight-month lay-off with a blood clot on his lung with one of the Rhinos' six tries.
On a night of milestones for the home side, long-serving scrum-half Rob Burrow touched down twice to leapfrog former Bradford winger Lesley Vainikolo into ninth place in the list of all-time leading tryscorers with 137 and winger Ryan Hall, who now holds the record for most current Super League appearances with 71, scored his 150th try for the club.
Yet the odds were stacked against the Rhinos, who gave a debut to England academy captain Jordan Baldwinson and had in their line-up two more 18-year-olds with just two Super League appearances between them as well as four players backing up from Friday's England-Exiles game.
Widnes, who could not beat a Wigan side minus nine first-teamers in their previous game, fought back after twice trailing by 12 points to lead 22-18 after 48 minutes but the champions finished the stronger side.
It looked straightforward for Brian McDermott's men as they raced into a 12-0 lead inside eight minutes through Burrow and the returning Jones-Bishop.
Zak Hardaker converted both tries before Widnes scrum-half Joe Mellor grabbed the first of his two tries, finishing off a break through the middle by winger Patrick Ah Van, who had been put into a hole in the Leeds defence by Ben Kavanagh's clever offload.
Burrow restored his side's 12-point lead on 22 minutes, finishing off a break by Sutcliffe, but the battling Vikings drew level with two further tries in two minutes.
Mellor scooped up the ball from Ian Kirke's handling error and sprinted 80 metres for his second try before Macgraff Leuluai broke clear to get stand-off Kevin Brown over.
Jack Owens kicked his third conversion to tie the scores and it stayed that way until half-time after hooker Paul McShane had a try from dummy half was disallowed for obstruction.
That ruling was made by video referee Steve Ganson, back in the role for the first time since his howler in the Hull derby at the Magic Weekend, and he will be grateful the contentious decision did not come back to haunt him.
Widnes were forced to defend desperately at the start of the second half before stunning their hosts on the counter-attack to go in front for the first time on 48 minutes.
Brown's delayed pass got his brother-in-law Gareth Hock, back after a four-match ban, into space and he got Hanbury over at the corner for the first of his two tries.
The lead lasted only five minutes however, as second rower Jamie Jones-Buchanan forced his way over from dummy half for Leeds' fourth try and Hardaker added the goal.
Centre Joel Moon then gathered Burrow's high kick for McShane to get Hall over for his landmark try before he added another seven minutes later to open up a 10-point gap.
A tense finish was on the cards when Hanbury beat three defenders on a thrilling 80-metre run for his second touchdown - but Sutcliffe made sure of the points when he jinked his way over for the champions' final try five minutes from the end.
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First Utility Super League Table
|5||Hull K R||0||0|
|7||Salford Red Devils||0||0|
|First Utility Super League|
|Thursday 5th February|
|20:00||Widnes vs Wigan|
|Friday 6th February|
|20:00||St Helens vs Catalans Dragons|
|Saturday 7th February|
|15:00||Warrington vs Salford|
|Sunday 8th February|
|15:00||Huddersfield vs Hull|
|15:00||Hull K R vs Leeds|
|15:30||Castleford vs Wakefield|
|Thursday 12th February|
|20:00||Salford vs St Helens|
|Friday 13th February|
|20:00||Hull vs Warrington|
|20:00||Leeds vs Widnes|
|20:00||Wigan vs Huddersfield|
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