The London Broncos battled bravely against their fatigue before being edged out as the Leeds Rhinos reclaimed their four-point lead over Bradford at the top of the Super League table. London put up a splendid battle but Leeds just about deserved to squeeze out a victory in front of Headingley's lowest crowd of the season.
The idea that London might be below their best after a midweek match against Huddersfield gathered strength in the first couple of minutes when Andrew King's attempts to intercept gave Leeds an extra set of tackles and Wayne McDonald went over from Matt Diskin's pass.
Matt Adamson was denied a quick second for a double movement as Leeds continued to look dangerous. A second Kevin Sinfield goal, after Francis Stephenson was penalised for holding down, kept them moving in the right direction.
Adamson stormed through after 12 minutes, picking out Chev Walker in support for a second Leeds try. Adamson had another one ruled out when Dennis Moran dislodged the ball as he crossed the line.
Moran opened up new possibilities for London with a dazzling individual try. Chris Thorman landed the goal, but London's little revival was immediately followed by a setback as Rob Jackson was sent to the sin bin for holding down.
Three minutes before half-time Danny McGuire gave another glimpse of his rich promise, leaving Rob Purdham and Moran flapping ineffectually on a beautifully balanced run to the line.
After 12 minutes of the second half London's pressure finally paid off. Jim Dymock's pass released Damien Kennedy for their second try, improved by Thorman to cut the margin to eight.
Leeds were rattled and Sinfield opted for a drop goal with their first real attack of the half. Almost immediately, Mark Calderwood let slip the chance to kill the game off, sliding on to the dead ball line before grounding the ball from Andrew Dunemann's break.
It was Leeds who were now making the more damaging mistakes, culminating in Ryan Bailey's knock-on that surrendered pressure for Thorman's reverse pass to send Moran over for his 16th try of the season.
But London suddenly looked exhausted again as Willie Poching wrestled his way over with eight minutes left. Even then, London came back with King's try. It was as close as they could get, but a far better performance than anyone had the right to expect.
"We showed tremendous character," said the Broncos coach Tony Rae, who also had to overcome losing two of his forwards Bill Peden and Richard Marshall early in the match. "We got a moral victory if not an actual one."
Leeds: Connelly; Calderwood, Walker, Senior, Cummins; McGuire, Dunemann; McDonald, Diskin, Bailey, Furner, Adamson, Sinfield. Substitutes used: Feather, McKenna, Burrow, Poching.
London: Moran; Sykes, Jackson, Roy, King; Dimmock, Thorman; Stephenson, Budworth, Marshall, Retchless, Peden, Purdham. Substitutes used: Hamilton, Mbu, Kennedy, Bawden.
Referee: R Silverwood (Mirfield).Reuse content