Salford Red Devils: Tries: Junior Sa’u, Theo Fages, Jordan Walne. Goals: Josh Griffin 3/3.
Leeds Rhinos: Tries: Zak Hardaker, Kallum Watkins, Carl Ablett, Stevie Ward. Goals: Zak Hardaker 3/5.
Zak Hardaker scored a try and kicked three goals as Leeds overcame Salford to move secure second place in Super League for another week.
A try from Junior Sa’u gave the hosts an early lead, but Leeds responded with quick tries from Hardaker and Kallum Watkins, but the Red Devils hit back through Theo Fages to make it 12-12 at half-time, but Carl Ablett and Stevie Ward both crossed within eight minutes of the restart to open up a 10-point lead for Leeds.
Jordan Walne went over for the hosts late on to set up a tense finish, but Leeds held on for their 15th win of the season despite the notable absence of their suspended captain, Kevin Sinfield.
In front of a vocal crowd, Salford went ahead when Kevin Locke, who was making his home debut, kicked through the Leeds defence for Junior Sa’u to cross and Josh Griffin added the extras. Despite this setback, the visitors fought their way back into the tie thanks to back-to-back tries within the space of just two minutes.
Hardaker, who improved both efforts with the boot, raced through a gap and got his fingertips to a Danny McGuire pass, before Tom Briscoe broke away down the right and his pass inside eventually found Kallum Watkins who powered his way over from 20 metres out.
But this Salford side are made of sterner stuff these days and hit back again just before the break. Rangi Chase sent grubber-kick tumbling into the in-goal area and French halfback Theo Fages was quickest to react, diving over from close range. Griffin made it two conversions from two to level the scores.
Carl Ablett spun over the line for his third try in the last two games, giving the visitors the lead once again in the second half and Hardaker’s third successful kick from three extended Rhinos’ lead to six points once again. Not long after, Stevie Ward, who had only been on the field for a matter of minutes, went over after great work from Liam Sutcliffe. Hardaker pushed his conversion attempt wide, but the Rhinos still held a comfortable ten-point advantage heading into the final quarter of the match.
However, on the hour mark, Jordan Walne barged his way through the visiting defence and Griffin kept up his 100 per cent record with the boot to take the hosts to within just four points once again, setting up a dramatic finish.
Zak Hardaker had a chance to take the Rhinos six point ahead but missed his penalty attempt from distance and Salford sensed a chance, applying some considerable pressure to the Leeds defensive line in the final stages.
But the resilient Rhinos, backed by some vocal travelling support, held on to earn a vital two points which helps keep their chase for the league leaders’ shield on track. Meanwhile, the result puts Salford’s chances of a late march into the play-offs in the balance – they will need to make up four points on 8th placed Widnes within the next five games.