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Super League: Leeds Rhinos hold off gutsy Wakefield challenge
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Wakefield's four-match winning run was brought to an end but they pushed champions Leeds all the way before going fdown 20-18 in front of a season's best crowd of 18,387 at Headingley.
The Rhinos dominated the game for long periods but were only able to breathe easily when England winger Ryan Hall scored their fourth try five minutes from the end and Rob Burrow kicked the touchline conversion.
The defeat dents the Wildcats' play-off hopes but they will derive enough confidence from this narrow defeat to believe they can turn the tables in next Friday's re-match at the Rapid Solicitors Stadium.
Leeds' star-studded threequarter line came to their rescue, scoring all four tries, with winger Ben Jones-Bishop grabbing two of them before half-time.
Successful 40-20 kicks from Liam Sutcliffe and the outstanding Burrow enabled Leeds to pile on the early pressure but a combination of poor handling and resolute Wakefield defence ensured a scoreless first quarter.
The Rhinos were finally rewarded with the game's first try on 23 minutes after Jamie Peacock and Burrow worked the ball out to the right where Sutcliffe and centre Kallum Watkins produced quick hands to get Jones-Bishop over for his first score.
Zak Hardaker pulled off a fine last-ditch tackle to deny loose forward Kyle Trout after he had been put in the clear by a clever Tim Smith pass but the Wildcats maintained the pressure and it paid off when Smith's grubber kick rebounded off the boot of Jones-Buchanan into the path of replacement prop Andy Raleigh for a simple try.
Lee Smith's goal edged the visitors into a 6-4 lead but Jones-Bishop collected Sutcliffe's precision kick to the corner to claim his second try and Burrow, taking over the goalkicking from Hardaker, added the touchline conversion to make it 10-6 at the break.
Wakefield did not help themselves with a host of handling errors early in the second half while Leeds continued to chance their arm without being able to find the finishing to match their ambition.
Jones-Bishop was bundled into touch by Ben Cockayne in one corner while at the other Ryan Hall was deceived by a high pass from his centre Joel Moon.
Wakefield suffered a body blow when in-form skipper Danny Kirmond hobbled off on 47 minutes and they slipped further behind eight minutes later when Moon accepted Burrow's cut-out pass and side-stepped past winger Peter Fox for Leeds' third try.
Leeds also suffered a major injury blow when Watkins hobbled off 15 minutes from the end and they were forced to endure a nervous last 10 minutes when former player Ali Lauitiiti took Tim Smith's short pass to score Wakefield's second try.
Lee Smith's second goal closed the gap to just two points but Hall made sure of the Rhinos' win when he touched down Burrow's kick to the corner.
Burrow's touchline conversion proved crucial as Cockayne regained possession for Wakefield from the re-start to set up the position for second rower Frankie Mariano to crash over for his side's third try, to which Lee Smith added the goal.
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Super League Table
|9||Hull K R||27||23|
|10||Salford Red Devils||27||23|
|13||Bradford Bulls *||27||10|
|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 Wolves vs Salford Red Devils|
|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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