Kevin Sinfield had an off-day with the boot, but found his range with the last kick of the match to keep up the pursuit of St Helens at the top of the Super League table. It was a cruel defeat that came at an extra cost to Warrington, who lost their winger, Brian Carney, from their Cup semi-final plans with a suspected broken arm in the first half and Scott Grix with a wrist injury in the second.
For his first match back at Headingley since coaching Leeds two years ago, Tony Smith brought a Warrington side which might have been expected to have half an eye on next weekend's Challenge Cup appointment against Wigan.
There was no sign of minds being elsewhere as they took the lead after three minutes, however. Garreth Carvell's crunching tackle knocked the ball out of Kylie Leuluai's grasp and Michael Monaghan's superb pass sent Ben Westwood striding through to find Richard Mathers in support to score against his old club.
Mathers showed another side of his game to present Leeds with a try five minutes later. Sinfield put an innocuous kick into the in-goal area, but the Wolves' full-back skidded past, failing to touch-down, pick up or clear and leaving the ball there for Ryan Hall to claim his 22nd try of the season. Warrington suffered another blow when Carney, four games into his comeback, injured his arm in a tackle and went off in obvious trouble. Undeterred, they hit the Rhinos with more slick work from Monaghan, revelling in his new role as hooker and dummy half. This time the Australian ran diagonally, attracted defenders and leaving Vinnie Anderson a huge gap for a try converted, like their first, by Chris Bridge.
Again, Leeds hit back quickly when Danny McGuire kicked for the corner. There looked to be too much weight on the ball, but the diving Scott Donald managed to drag it back and touch down just inside the whitewash, although Sinfield's two missed conversions left Warrington with a narrow advantage at half-time.
Grix went off clutching his wrist early in the second half but Warrington deservedly extended their lead after 49 minutes. Jon Clarke was too sharp for Leeds from dummy half, getting free to send Louis Anderson over. The game was getting away from the Rhinos, but McGuire demonstrated a telescopic arm to reach out and ground the ball despite Mathers tackling him short of the line. And Leeds levelled the score when Bridge's fumble presented the ball to Carl Ablett and, sensing their big chance, worked the ball to the right for Lee Smith to exploit the overstretched defence, Sinfield surprisingly missing the goal.
After Lee Briers had a drop goal attempt charged down, Warrington's young prop Mike Cooper plunged over but Carvell's knock-on put the Wolves under immediate pressure and, after some heroic defence kept their line intact, Sinfield's long, skidding pass put Donald over and his touchline conversion completed the heartbreak.
Leeds: Webb; Donald, Smith, Senior, Hall; McGuire, Burrow; Leuluai, Diskin, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Sinfield. Substitutes used: Lauitiiti, Burgess, Worrall, Ratu.
Warrington: Mathers; Hicks, Bridge, Johnson, Carney; Briers, Grix; Morley, Monaghan, Carvell, L Anderson, Harrison, Westwood. Substitutes used: Cooper, Mitchell, Clarke, V.Anderson.
Referee: I Smith (Oldham).
Win tickets to the Challenge Cup semi-finals
Want to guarantee your seat at the Challenge Cup semi-finals?
We have joined forces with The Co-operative, sponsor of The Co-operative Championships and Conference and official partner of the RFL, to give you the chance to win one of six pairs of tickets. Wigan take on Warrington next Saturday (8 August) at Widnes' Stobart Stadium and St Helens play Huddersfield at the Halliwell Jones Stadium next Sunday. Six winners will each receive a pair of tickets to the semi-final match of their choice. All you have to do to stand a chance of winning is answer the following question:
Who won the 2008 Carnegie Challenge Cup?
a) St Helens; b) Bradford
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