Rugby League: Harris the architect of amazing recovery

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The Independent Online
Sheffield Eagles 23

Leeds Rhinos 24

IESTYN HARRIS kicked Leeds to victory in an almost unbelievable comeback that preserved their perfect record in rugby league's Super League.

When their Great Britain second row, Adrian Morley, was sent off for a high tackle in the 54th minute, Leeds went 19 points behind and their marvellous start to the season was surely over. But three tries, all converted by Harris, two of them from the touchline, and a 50-yard penalty, saw them get away with it in the most dramatic manner possible.

Harris had been kept relatively quite until he moved to stand-off to orchestrate the great escape. It just went to show that the really exceptional talents are always capable of finding another way to hurt you. It was a massive disappointment for Sheffield, who had done so well to overcome the early loss of Matt Crowther and play themselves into a winning position with the same blend of determined defence and alert opportunism that won the Challenge Cup.

They took the lead after five minutes, Paul Carr barrelling through at full speed for one of his speciality close-range tries. Leeds were still looking for their recent crisp precision but after Morley had been held up over the line, they did fashion an equalising try, Tony Kemp kicking through and Paul Sterling capitalising when Sheffield failed to clear their lines.

The 10 minutes before half-time saw Sheffield expose Leeds as they have not been exposed this season, twice slicing them apart with moves from the scrum base. Waisale Sovatabua got on the end of Waetu Taewa's pass to find a vacant channel down the left touchline and, in first-half injury- time, Leeds were dismantled again when Dave Watson sent Keith Senior striding through for Sheffield's third try. Marcus Vassilakopoulous, who had already put over a drop goal five minutes earlier, this time added the conversion which gave his side an impressive 11-point half-time lead.

In the 44th minute, it was another expansive piece of back play that took them further into the lead. Darren Shaw slung out a pass which gave Nick Pinkney the chance to get on the outside of the defence to score. Vassilakopoulous, growing in confidence in all aspects of his game, kicked the conversion from the touchline.

Leeds' problems seemed to have spiralled out of control when Morley was dismissed for an obvious high tackle on Taewa, Vassilakopoulous extracting extra retribution with the two points from the penalty. But the apparent hopelessness of their plight was just what Leeds needed to galvanise them. They began to hint at a fightback when Kemp pierced the Eagle's defence and Richie Blackmore's incisive pass sent Sterling over for his second try. When the former Eagle, Daryll Powell, released Francis Cummins and Harris added another conversion from the opposite wing, the prospect of Leeds maintaining their 100 per cent record was alive once more.

With six minutes to play, Powell, 11 years a Sheffield player, again supplied the final pass, this time for the Leeds substitute, Graham Holroyd. Harris again tagged on the goal and the single point looked no sort of cushion for Sheffield.

Their downfall came two minutes from the final hooter, when they were penalised for offside and a word out of place conceded a second penalty to take the kick at goal within Harris' range. His shot was always on target, but they will have no more fraught afternoon than this even if they sustain their compelling form all year.

Sheffield Eagles: Sovabavua, Hinkley, Taewa, Senior, Crowther, Stephens, Vassilat Opoulas, Broadbent, Lawless, Laughton, Car, Shaw, Doyles. Substitutes: Wood, Turner, Watson, Molloy.

Leeds Rhinos: Harris, Sterling, Blackmore, Godden, Cummins, Kent, Sheridan, Masella, Lawford, O'Leary, Morley, Farrell, Powell. Substitutes: St Hilaire, Holroyd, Hay, Matthiou.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).