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Rhinos repel rallying Giants
Hardaker the hat-trick hero as visitors triumph at the Galpharm
Leeds held off a ferocious late Huddersfield fightback to pip the Giants 34-28 in a pulsating Super League preliminary semi-final at the Galpharm Stadium.
Zak Hardaker grabbed a hat-trick of tries as the in-form Rhinos, who have now won four in a row since their Challenge Cup final defeat to Wigan, kept themselves on course for a seventh Grand Final appearance.
Huddersfield came into the game off the back of a 47-0 mauling at the hands of Warrington and for much of the first period it appeared they would again be on the wrong end of a hiding.
They trailed 16-0 after 25 minutes and then 34-12 at one stage in the second half, though the hosts came close to pulling off a famous comeback.
The Rhinos had hit the front after seven minutes when Danny Buderus' decision to attack down the blindside led to Weller Hauraki putting Ben Jones-Bishop in at the right corner.
Within two minutes the home line had been breached again, Danny McGuire supporting Brent Webb's break down the middle before throwing a long, looping pass out to the left to give Hardaker a simple run-in.
The same player crossed again in equally routine fashion down the same flank when he seized upon Jermaine McGillvary's failure to get in position to take a booming up-and-under from Leeds skipper Kevin Sinfield.
Were it not for forward passes from McGuire and Webb, ruling out scores for Kyle Leuluai and Ryan Hall, the Rhinos would have been out of sight.
The Giants were relieved to still be in with a sniff, though they struggled to make much of an impact on a strong Rhinos defence.
Eventually they did manage to get on the scoreboard with five minutes to play in the half, Scott Grix cantering in for a score that Danny Brough converted to make it 16-6 at the break in Leeds' favour.
Hopes of a home fightback were further lifted when Dale Ferguson - who scored two tries against the Rhinos back in April at Headingley - was put through a gap by Luke Robinson's perfectly-timed pass three minutes into the second half.
Brough again added the extras to cut the gap to four, putting the contest right back in the balance.
But, with momentum on their side, the Giants blew a golden opportunity to at least draw level when Leroy Cudjoe failed to successfully pass the ball inside to the supporting Brough, who had the line at his mercy.
The miss proved costly to say the least, as Leeds immediately went down the other end to score themselves, Hardaker making no mistake with his delivery back on the inside for the supporting Webb.
Hardaker's third of the night seemed to deflate the Giants completely and when Webb ran in another, with Sinfield adding his fifth conversion, Huddersfield's hopes of making it to Old Trafford looked doomed.
To their credit, they kept fighting right through to the final hooter. A brace from David Fa'alogo was sandwiched in between a second for full-back Grix, taking Nathan Brown's side back to within six points of their Yorkshire rivals.
They pushed hard for a further score to force extra time in the closing stages, but to no avail. Instead it is Leeds who live to fight another day, with their next opponents to be decided by Warrington's 'club call' announcement on Sunday.
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Super League Table
|9||Hull K R||27||23|
|10||Salford Red Devils||27||23|
|13||Bradford Bulls *||27||10|
|Friday 26th September|
|Huddersfield 16 - 18 Catalan Dragons|
|Thursday 25th September|
|Castleford 14 - 30 Warrington|
|Saturday 20th September|
|Leeds 20 - 24 Catalan Dragons|
|Warrington 22 - 19 Widnes|
|Friday 19th September|
|St Helens 41 - 0 Castleford|
|Thursday 18th September|
|Wigan 57 - 4 Huddersfield|
|Sunday 14th September|
|Wakefield 18 - 42 Hull K R|
|Saturday 13th September|
|Catalan Dragons 28 - 6 Castleford|
|London Broncos 36 - 46 Bradford|
|Friday 12th September|
|Salford 36 - 6 Widnes|
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