Normally a fixture associated with the play-off places, it was eighth against tenth as the Warrington Wolves hosted the Leeds Rhinos in an important game in the bottom half of the table as both sides looked to maintain a place on the fringes of the top six, the home side knowing that a win would lift them to at least seventh and the Rhinos looking to jump above their hosts into eighth.
Daryl Powell´s Wolves had new loan signing Kyle Amor on the bench in a strong looking line up after almost a fortnight off, while Leeds boss Rohan Smith made an enforced change to an equally rested side which beat Wakefield last time out to accommodate the most recent suspension of James Bentley.
Warrington were the favourites with the bookies, the Rhinos getting an eight-point start on the handicap coupon.
Warrington should have opened the scoring in the third minute after a superb break down the right by Connor Wrench but the Rhinos defence somehow managed to scramble back and defend their line. Two minutes after it was Daryl Clarke´s turn to rip through the Leeds defence but again the Warrington attack broke down after a poor kick.
Against the run of play the Rhinos went in on six with David Fusitu´a touching down after collecting a Kruise Leeming kick to the corner after Cameron Smith had gone close on the play before. Rhyse Martin slid his conversion attempt across the front of the uprights.
With the clock showing nineteen Peter Mata´utia carried two Leeds tacklers over the line but the video referee agreed with the referee that he didn´t get the ball on the ground. Two minutes later George Williams was also held up over the line, the Rhinos defence having a great opening quarter of the game.
But on twenty-two minutes the Wolves finally broke the line with Matty Ashton leaping to score in the corner off a Ben Currie pass. Stefan Ratchford was unable to add the touchline conversion, the sides locked up at 4-4.
It took the Rhinos four minutes to respond thanks to a Zak Hardaker break off a Richie Myler inside pass before finding Leeming in support to cross just to the left of the uprights as Warrington couldn´t cover. Martin was accurate with the kick and the Rhinos were 10-4 ahead.
On the half-hour mark Hardaker span out of a tackle to stretch for the line and ground one-handed. Martin was again accurate with the boot for a twelve-point lead.
Returning the kick-off, the Rhinos used all their tackles to go over again, covering the length of the field. A last tackle Blake Austin cross field kick was tapped back into the hands of Sutcliffe by Ash Handley, Sutcliffe passed instantly to James Donaldson who dove over from three metres out. Martin couldn´t add the extras, but the Rhinos had played the first half of their dreams for a 20-4 interval lead including three tries in a devastating six-minute spell.
A high tackle on Matt Prior by Daryl Clarke gifted Martin another two-pointer from ten metres out to put the Rhinos three converted tries clear with six minutes on the second half clock.
The Warrington ´boo boys´ were starting early as Warrington were unable to turn second half possession into points, every time Powell was shown on the big screen he was treated with derision.
On fifty-six Bodine Thompson spun out of a tackle and muscled his way over to get the ball on the ground, but the video referee ruled a double movement and chalked the try off.
After a failed Warrington interception inside their own twenty gifted the Rhinos possession, the moved the ball left and Handley found himself in acres of space to cross for the fifth Rhinos try of the night after Brad Dwyer and Myler combined. Martin was unable to add the conversion but Leeds taking the points back with them over the Pennines.
On sixty-six Bodine Thompson got the try he´s deserved all night as he stretched out to ground between the crowded legs of Warrington defenders. Martin was again off target as the Warrington fans started to file out of the stadium.
On sixty-nine, Fusitu´a took a Leeming miss-out pass to jink inside and cross for his second of the night. Martin missed again, having an uncharacteristically poor night with the boot, but with the Rhinos 34-4 up it didn´t really matter.
George Williams telegraphed an interception pass, collected easily by Handley, who went ninety-five metres for his second try of the evening. Martin managed to kick his third conversion of the night as the Rhinos hit forty, the Wolves supports that remained in the ground vociferously booing their side.
Leeds and Warrington swap league places with Powell´s side dropping to tenth. The Wire fans were disgusted at their side, while the travelling Rhinos support celebrated like they had gone top of the league. The Rhinos seem to have turned the corner under their new coach Smith, but the Wolves are in free-fall and the calls for another 2022 coaching casualty are growing in volume.
A emphatic night for the Rhinos.
Warrington Wolves: Widdop, Wrench, Mata´utia, King, Ashton (T), Ratchford, Williams, Philbin, Clark D, Cooper, Currie, Holmes, Magoulias. Subs: Bullock, Davies, Mulhern, Amor.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker (T), Fusitu´a (2T), Sutcliffe, Martin (4G), Handley (2T), Myler, Austin, Oledzki, Leeming (T), Tetevano, Gannon, Thompson (T), Smith. Subs: Prior, Dwyer, O´Connor, Donaldson (T).
Score Progression: 0-4, 4-4, 4-8, 4-10, 4-14, 4-16, 4-20 : HT : 4-22, 4-26, 4-30, 4-34, 4-38, 4-40 : FT.
Lead Exchanges: Leeds – Square – Leeds.
Referee: Jack Smith.