Lauitiiti leads Rhinos’ charge to Super League title defence

Leeds 44 Hull KR 8
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Leeds are just 80 minutes away from a chance to defend the Super League title they have held for the last two years after overpowering a depleted but courageous Rovers in a match marred by a serious injury to Chev Walker.

The Robins coped for a long time with much of what Leeds threw at them, but not with Ali Lauitiiti, the Samoan substitute who scored two tries and created another. Under the play-off system, they get another chance next week, when they will hope to have a few more fit men available.

The worst blow to their hopes last night came after 10 minutes when Walker, their ex-Leeds centre, suffered a horribly broken left leg. Keith Senior, who made the innocuous tackle on his former team-mate, immediately signalled for help and Walker was carried off after six minutes treatment.

"They operated on him straight away," said his coach, Justin Morgan. "We have to be very hopeful that he can get it fixed."

The Rhinos were already four points ahead, having started at a hundred miles an hour and scored when Scott Donald caught Danny McGuire's kick in the corner and channelled it cleverly to Lee Smith.

Leeds would have been further ahead but for McGuire knocking-on at the end of another sweeping move, but the Robins fought back bravely after Walker's departure. The famed kicking skills of Michael Dobson enabled them to build some pressure and the stand-in full-back Daniel Fitzhenry scored the equaliser on a solo surge.

Dobson's conversion and a penalty when Kevin Sinfield sent his drop-out into touch on the full put the visitors ahead, but then Kris Welham lost the ball near his own sticks.

Retribution looked certain and it arrived when Lauitiiti took Rob Burrow's pass and delivered a miracle ball to Brent Webb as he tumbled. Rovers could have been back in front by the end of a fascinating first half, but after going 60 metres Peter Fox was penalised for running behind his team-mate Michael Vella, a prop pressed into service in the centre following Walker's injury.

Rovers could have levelled it early in the second half, but chose to run a penalty rather than kick for goal after Smith's high tackle. At the other end, Ryan Hall caught McGuire's high kick, fed it to Senior and Lauitiiti was over for his first try.

His second, five minutes later, came courtesy of a flat cut-out pass from McGuire and, with Sinfield's conversion, Leeds were looking comfortable.

They were even more so when, from another mistake by Welham, Jamie Peacock ploughed over from close range. Soon after that, the prolific Hall showed his class with yet another high-class piece of finishing and Smith took advantage of an eccentric bounce for his second, before Senior rounded it off for the home side.

Leeds: Webb; Donald, Smith, Senior, Hall; McGuire, Burrow; Leuluai, Diskin, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Sinfield. Substitutes used: Lauitiiti, Bailey, Worrall, Kirke.

Hull KR: Fitzhenry; Fox, Walker, Welham, Colbon; Cooke, Dobson; Fozzard, Fisher, Wheeldon, Vella, Newton, I'Anson. Substitutes used: Taylor, Lovegrove, Netherton, Gene.

Referee: S Ganson (St Helens).