The most eagerly anticipated game of the Magic weekend was the Sunday encounter in game five between the Leeds Rhinos and London Broncos. At the start of the game the sides occupied the bottom two places in Super League and the loser would find themselves two points adrift at the foot of the table at the halfway stage of the season.
Both sides have a fifty percent record at the Magic weekend, the Rhinos with six from twelve and the Broncos with four from eight. The Broncos won the only previous encounter between these two sides in 2019 by 18-16 and the Rhinos needed to end a three game losing streak.
The Rhinos were strong favourites with the bookies but their fans doubted whether their stand in coach Richard Agar could take the points off former Leeds Star Danny Ward’s side. But it’s six years since the Rhinos won at a Magic Weekend.
Referee James Child was busy with the whistle early on, penalising both sides. On five minutes Liam Sutcliffe conjoured a try out of nothing, picking the ball up from acting half-back and pushing aside the London defenders to get to the line. Sutcliffe added the conversion for a 6-0 lead.
When Jordan Abdull put his kick out on the full the Rhinos broke downfield again and on nine minutes Ash Handley found the space to get over the line and ground one-handed. Sutcliffe was unable to add the touchline conversion but it was the perfect start for Leeds.
The penalties kept on coming at the rate of one every two minutes and it was one of these which led to Ryan Morgan taking an Alex Walker pass to walk through a big gap in the Leeds defence to score. Kieran Dixon added the conversion to reduce the arrears to four points.
A second push in the tackle by James Cunningham saw London penalised again, Leeds ran the ball but London held strong, stopping Leeds players from scoring twice when they got over the line.
As the half wore on there was little to choose between the two sides. London had their chances and it took some strong Leeds defence to keep them out until the interval, the West Yorkshire side taking a 10-6 lead into the break.
It was a crucial second forty for both sides, the game still in the balance.
Abdull put a clearing kick out on the full just a minute into the second half and the Rhinos took full advantage with Jack Walker scampering through a gap off a Richie Myler pass. Sutcliffe was unable to add the conversion, the Rhinos eight points ahead.
London bounced straight back with Jordan Abdull throwing the dummy and dipping the shoulder to cross by the posts to reduce the arrears to two points. Dixon failed to add the conversion from close, much to the relief of the Leeds crowd.
Elliot Kear and Rhys Williams both went close for London on fifty-four before Cameron Smith was forced behind his posts for a drop-out. London visibly gaining in confidence as Leeds looked increasingly rattled.
On sixty-three Harry Newman flung himself at the line from acting half-back and got the ball on the line for a four-pointer. Sutcliffe again failed to add the conversion but with fifteen minutes remaining the Rhinos were 18-10 ahead.
A great break from young Alex Sutcliffe saw him down the centre of the field before he flung a pass infield. The pass went to no-one but Myler won the race to pick up the loose ball and run the remaining ten metres to get the ball on the ground over the line. Liam Sutcliffe added the conversion, the Rhinos with a 24-10 lead.
Abdull responded immediately as London took a short kick-off and he swapped passes with Jay Pitts. Dixon added the conversion for 16-24 with nine minutes remaining.
On seventy-three Walker got his second try of the afternoon to culminate a fast hands passing move and go through the Rhinos defensive line to score. Dixon added the extras and the Broncos were trailing by just two points with five minutes remaining in a sensational second half.
Leeds dug deep. They dislodged the ball from Londons grasp in the tackle and at the end of the next set they forced a goal-line drop-out. The Broncos regained the ball with a short kick and moved downfield but Leeds reclaimed the ball from the kick on the last tackle.
A perfect Myler kick on the last took London back to their own ten metre line and as the last few seconds disappeared from the clock the Rhinos held on for the 24-22 victory.
The Rhinos got their first win in four and their first under the interim coaching of Richard Agar. London gave their all and will count themselves as unlucky to have not got something out of the game. The Rhinos are back up to tenth in the table, London now two points adrift at the bottom of the pile.
These were two sides low on confidence and todays performances will do little to change that. Both are in for a very difficult second half of the season as they try to avoid the drop into the Championship.
Rhinos: Walker (T), Briscoe, Newman (T), Watkins, Handley (T), Sutcliffe L (T, 2G), Myler (T), Seumanufagai, Dwyer, Singleton, Donaldson, Smith, Merrin. Subs: Parcell, Peteru, Oledzki, Sutcliffe A.
Broncos: Walker (2T), Dixon (3G), Morgan, Kear, Williams, Abdull (2T), Smith, Battye, Cunningham, Butler, Pitts, Lovell, Yates. Subs: Richards, Fozard, Adebiyi, Gee.
Referee: James Child.