Leeds Rhinos progressed to the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup with a feisty 52-22 win against Leigh Centurions.
A red card for Peter Mata’utia after only nine minutes cost Leigh very dearly, as a first half blitz sealed Leeds’ place in the last four with comfort.
It looked like there would be an interesting clash in store when Leigh took the lead after five minutes, with Nathan Mason going over easily from close range.
However, any hopes of that were extinguished after a moment of madness from Peter Mata’utia. He allowed a high bomb to bounce and Matt Parcell claimed the ball, only to be tipped and dumped on his head by the frustrated Centurions full-back. Referee Chris Kendall showed him the red card and from there Leigh were torn apart.
They took immediate advantage by creating an overload for Tom Briscoe to cross, which began a run of six tries in just 17 minutes.
Briscoe got his second through another overload on the right edge, before Jack Walker went in under the posts from a break created by Stevie Ward’s offload.
Walker was involved again two minutes later as his dart through the defence set Ash Handley away to score, before Keinhorst was the next to finish off a break at the cost of a hamstring injury that forced him to limp his way to the line.
Ash Golding added his name to the scoresheet as he supported Handley after his break to run clear for Leeds’ sixth try.
Drew Hutchinson got some points back by rounding Cameron Smith to go over, but the Rhinos had the final say of the half as Richie Myler got on the end of Walker’s break to bring up 40 points.
To Leigh’s credit they came out positively in the second period, although Leeds got the first score through Cameron Smith and Jordan Lilley added a penalty to his seven conversions.
Leigh didn’t give up and got two tries back. The first was fortuitous as two Rhinos defenders failed to deal with a grubber kick and Ben Crooks pounced on the loose ball to go over, before Liam Hood managed to force his way over from close range.
The game became increasingly feisty, with both Jamie Acton and Brett Ferres were sent to the bin with five minutes left on the clock, and Matty Dawson-Jones was sent off for dissent following an Adam Cuthbertson score in the final minute.
WHAT WE’VE LEARNED
Early red card ends the contest
An early red card doesn’t always mean certain defeat for a side, but Leigh were pulled apart time and time again as soon as they went down to 12.
There was no structure and organisation in the first 20 minutes following the dismissal of Mata’utia, and Leeds’ quality was on show as they exposed it fully with break after break to put the score far beyond them within half an hour.
They did improve in the second half, limiting the Rhinos to just two tries, but the damage was long since done.
Victory comes at a cost for Leeds
This was the biggest win of the season by far for the struggling Rhinos, but any joy will be tinged with the agony of another series of injuries.
The played much of the game with only 14 players available. Parcell had to go off with concussion, while Carl Ablett and Jimmy Keinhorst were forced off with calf and hamstring injuries respectively.
The latter two both look like being long-term absentees, which only adds to a very long list of players that Brian McDermot has to do without.
Man of the Match – Jack Walker (Leeds Rhinos)
Many of the Leeds players found their stride following the early red card, but it was the young full-back who caused Leigh the most problems.
They found him impossible to stop with a number of breaks though the line, and his devastating pace was a fitting reflection of the distance that emerged between the two sides.
Leeds Rhinos 52
Tries: Briscoe (2), Walker, Handley, Keinhorst, Golding, Myler, Smith, Cuthbertson
Goals: Lilley (8)
Drop Goals: n/a
Leigh Centurions 22
Tries: Mason, Hutchinson, Crooks, Hood
Goals: Reynolds (3)
Drop Goals: n/a
Leeds: Walker; Briscoe, Keinhorst, Handley, Hall; Lilley, Myler; Cuthbertson, Parcell, Oledzki; Ferres, Ward, Ablett.
Interchanges: Golding, Mullally, Smith, Walters.
Leigh: Mata’utia; Dawson, Crooks, Hall, Evans; Reynolds, Hutchinson; Acton, Hood, Mason; B Thompson, Hansen, J Thompson.
Interchanges: Larroyer, Richards, Higham, Baldwinson.
Referee: Chris Kendall