Rugby League: Mercer's exertions lift Leeds: Headingley club's recent resurgence continues with third consecutive win as Salford pay price for their month of inactivity

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Leeds. . . . .38

Salford . . .14

THE turn of the year - especially a year as disastrous as the last one - clearly agrees with Leeds. Some glorious rugby in the second half yesterday saw them achieve their third big win in a row to start 1993, but not before they had revisited some of the darker corners of 1992.

When Salford took the lead five minutes after the break, all Leeds' good work in recent victories over Halifax and Castleford seemed on the point of being undone.

Fortunately for their new-found credibility with their fans, Leeds struck back in memorable style. The try that turned the match their way came when Gary Mercer, an incisive runner throughout, made a break and Garry Schofield backed up to put Ellery Hanley over despite Phil Ford's despairing dive.

Within six minutes, some brilliant handling between Craig Innes, Alan Tait and Schofield gave Simon Irving a sight of the line, which he did well to reach by beating tackles from Ford and Jason Critchley.

The fourth of Irving's five goals, a penalty after a play-the-ball offence, increased Leeds' lead. Hanley, Tait and Kevin Iro then did splendidly to keep the ball alive for Jim Fallon's strength to take him over in the corner.

He almost made it again soon afterwards, but, when he was stopped, confident passing took the ball to the other side of the field for Mike O'Neill to lay on a richly deserved try for Mercer.

Fallon, beginning to look the part as a rugby league winger with the opportunities coming his way, completed the scoring four minutes from time after James Lowes and Mercer had opened up the tiring defence.

It was a final scoreline that did scant justice to Salford, who for long periods looked every bit as enterprising as their opponents. If they were a little rusty in the early stages and obviously weary by the end, that was understandable. A combination of factors left them without a single first- team game in December and that inactivity was bound to show.

Leeds had already wasted a couple of clear chances before they took a 14th-minute lead, Schofield creating the gap with a long pass to Paul Dixon and Innes and Tait arriving on cue for the latter to score.

When they got the rust out of their system, Salford hit back impressively and were unfortunate to come away with only a Steve Blakeley penalty to show for a long spell of pressure.

They paid for their failure to capitalise when Schofield put Gareth Stephens into a gap and Iro scored, but then they took the lead with tries either side of half- time. Both exposed some uncertain Leeds defence near their own line, Blakeley sidestepping through for the first and then supplying the pass for Mark Lee to grab the second.

There was much to admire in the way Leeds shrugged off the spectres of the old year. Perhaps the most encouraging aspect was the form of two young players: Stephens, in at scrum-half for the injured Andy Gregory, and Paul Anderson, a prop of the old school who gave Salford more than his share of trouble with his power and size.

Leeds: Tait (Grigg, 73); Fallon, Iro, Innes, Irving; Schofield, Stephens; Molloy, Lowes, O'Neill (Anderson, 46), Dixon (O'Neill, 57), Mercer, Hanley.

Salford: Cruickshank; Evans, Critchley, Birkett (Gilfillan, 32), Ford; Blakeley, Coleman; Young (Bradshaw, 57), Lee, Stazicker (Young, 73), Bradshaw (Ackerman, 32), Blease, Burgess.

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).

(Photograph omitted)