Leeds and Wigan turned up the pressure on the Super League standard-bearers, Bradford Bulls, as they prepare to meet each other at the JJB Stadium next Saturday.
The Bulls' lead was cut to just two points following their 28-20 defeat by Leeds in front of Headingley crowd of 18,305, the biggest of Super League VII on Friday night, while Wigan extended their winning run to six matches with a 32-0 success over Salford.
The Rhinos came from 10-0 down to claim only their fourth win in 17 Super League derbies, a victory which coach Daryl Powell rates as his best since he took over at Headingley more than 12 months ago. He also claimed the victory proved that the Rhinos' Challenge Cup defeat of the Bulls in February was no fluke.
"We played a full-strength Bradford team who wanted revenge and were highly motivated, so it probably was the best win," he said.
The outcome was a vindication of the coach's surprise reshuffle, kept under wraps until just before kick-off, which saw Australian Ben Walker switched to full-back for the first time in his career and Kevin Sinfield handed the chief playmaking role. Sinfield's tackling proved decisive and it was he who sparked the remarkable transformation just before half-time, scoring one try and setting up another for Willie Poching.
That turned a 10-0 deficit into a 12-10 lead and the game was put beyond Bradford's reach with another two-try burst at the start of the second half. Solo efforts from Wayne McDonald and Tonie Carroll took the score out to 24-10 and, although Bradford skipper Robbie Paul pulled a try back to raise his side's hopes briefly, Walker sealed victory with a couple of penalties, taking his goal tally to six from seven attempts.
Powell was delighted with his tactical manoeuvring. "It's something I've thought about for a couple of weeks and I thought tonight was the right time to do it," he said. "I think it gives us a very tough front line of defence with Kevin in there and it gives Ben the freedom to do what he does best, and that's support the ball. I think he will be an outstanding full-back. Whether we do it consistently, I don't know. I was very happy with the way it went. I thought we were very well-balanced as a team."
Leeds' next big test is away to Wigan, who made it four league wins in a row at the expense of bottom club Salford. The Warriors ran in six tries, but it was their clean sheet that pleased coach Stuart Raper. "We set a goal to keep the points we were conceding down, and to 'nil' a team in the Super League is very difficult," he said. "Salford are fighting for their lives and they made it very hard for us."
Wigan raced ahead with early tries from Jamie Ainscough and Kris Radlinski, but the Reds showed some fighting spirit to limit any further scoring until the second half. Brian Carney got the scoreboard moving again before David Hodgson, Julian O'Neill and Brett Dallas completed the try-scoring.Reuse content