RUGBY LEAGUE: Saxton and Raynor tries give Leeds late fright

Hull FC 12 Leeds Rhinos 16
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The Independent Online
LEEDS LAUNCHED the defence of their Super League title last night with a hard-fought victory at the KC Stadium, although they were taken all the way by a Hull team which lacked a string of regulars but nothing in determination.

Late tries from Tom Saxton and Gareth Raynor brought Hull to the brink of a successful fightback after a combination of Leeds' strong defence and more clinical finishing seemed to have finished matters.

The visitors took the lead after 19 minutes in controversial circumstances when they got the ball back from Danny McGuire's little kick and Marcus Bai scored in the corner from what was a clear forward pass by Richard Mathers.

Paul Cooke missed an easy penalty for Hull before Leeds grabbed a couple to build some pressure. Then they took advantage of some slack defence when Andrew Dunemann darted out on dummy-half to send Chev Walker over, with Kevin Sinfield converting.

Hull finally got their first points when Cooke landed the goal after Willie Poching had held down Motu Toni. They then enjoyed plenty of possession at the start of the second half, but lacked the guile to break down a well-organised Leeds defence. Again the Rhinos demonstrated the cutting edge in a lovely handling move that saw Poching produce the final pass to send Keith Senior over.

Saxton had his moment just after the hour when Cooke's kick slithered through the Leeds in-goal area and he swooped on it to touch down. Then some fine handling ended with Kirk Yeaman's overhead pass sending Raynor in at the corner.

If Saxton had not fumbled the ball two minutes later, Hull's momentum might have taken them over again and a brave fightback might have have gained its reward.

The Leeds coach, Tony Smith, however, denied ever being worried. "I had total faith,'' he said. "They did a great job, although the scoreline got a bit closer than we would have liked.''

Hull's John Kear said: "We threw the kitchen sink at them and credit to Leeds for withstanding that,'' he said. "We finished very strongly and looked the more likely side to win it.''

Hull: Saxton, Blacklock, Tony, Yeaman, Raynor, R Horne, Lupton, Dowes, Swain, McNicholas, McMenemy, Chester, Cooke. Substitutes used: Thackray, Higgins, G Horne, Hill.

Leeds: Mathers, Calderwood, Walker, Senior, Bai, Sinfield, McGuire, Bailey, Dunemann, Ward, McKenna, Jones-Buchanan, Ellis. Substitutes used: Burrow, McDermott, Lauitiiti, Poching.

Referee: K Kirkpatrick (Warrington).