Hull FC’s dreams of a Grand Final and Challenge Cup double ended tonight at Headingley as they were beaten 18-16 by a determined Leeds Rhinos side.
Looking to end a 10 year hoodoo at Headingley and get to their first Grand Final since 2006, Lee Radford’s men couldn’t find the killer punch to put Leeds away.
From the kick off Leeds were on the front foot, led by the outstanding Adam Cuthbertson especially in the opening quarter of the game. Hull’s forwards couldn’t get on a roll as Leeds muscled up defence, restricting Hull to minimal metres in attack whilst rolling forward on the back of Cuthbertson’s offloads.
Leeds got the first score of the game after 4 minutes when Liam Watts was penalised for a marginally late challenge on Danny McGuire as he launched a bomb. From the resultant tap 18 metres from the Hull line Stevie Ward powered his way through a Scott Taylor and Danny Houghton tackle to reach out and plonk the ball on the line, confirmed by the video referee.
Hull tried to find a way through the Leeds defence but the line speed of the home side was electrifying, on 12 minutes the visitors made a half break as they shipped the ball right in their own 20 and the impressive Jake Connor flicked a ball out the back to Mahe Fonua who charged up to half way before been bundled into touch by 4 defenders.
Leeds continued to build pressure on the Hull line when McGuire’s kick through was picked up by Albert Kelly who in turn was wrapped up by Matt Parcell and bundled over his own line to force a drop out. After a big hit by Brad Singleton on Liam Watts forced a knock on, Leeds scored from the next set. McGuire shaped to go blind from 10 metres out and dropped the ball back onto Anthony Mullally who scooted in for a try with his first touch of the ball. Kallum Watkins added his second conversion to make it 12-0.
Hull finally had an attacking set after 24 minutes and so nearly came up with a score as Kelly powered his way over the line but an excellent Watkins tackle forced the ball free to give Leeds the restart. Minutes later though Hull were in, McGuire was pulled for a high shot on Mark Minichiello and two plays later the retiring Gareth Ellis who ran his blood to water all night crashed over from close range from a superb no look pass from Danny Houghton. Marc Sneyd added the extras.
From the kick off, young full back Jack Walker managed to find touch on Hull’s right side as Kelly and Fonua both watch the ball bounce over the white wash. Hull though were starting to get a foothold in the game allowing Sneyd to pin Leeds deep in their own half but they couldn’t find a way through but Minichellio on the stroke of half time powered his way to the line but the home defence held firm.
Hull started the second period the brighter of the two sides. Carl Ablett was penalised for a high shot on skipper Ellis and Hull were now deep in enemy territory. On the last play of the set Sneyd put up a perfect kick for Fonua to challenge Ryan Hall who leapt slightly higher and patted the ball into touch for a Hull scrum. They probed left then right and the ball reached Connor who slipped a would be Rob Burrow tackle and flicked a lovely pass over the top of Hall to Fonua who touched down out wide. Connor’s pass was top drawer to set up the winger. Crucially Sneyd pulled the conversion wide and Hull trailed by 2.
After another Hull attack broke down as Shaul’s pass was intercepted by Mitch Garbutt who passed onto Jack Walker he looked certain to score but talisman Ellis chased him down to halt the raid. Moments later the Rhinos thought they’d stretched their lead after a barnstorming run from Singleton saw him claiming a try but ref Bentham sent it upstairs as a no try and the replay suggested that Shaul and Fonua had done magnificently to get a hand under the ball to prevent it hitting the grass.
After Josh Griffin had defused a kick in his own in goal area Hull marched up field on a seven tackle set and Sneyd’s kick was superbly flicked back by Connor into the grateful arms of Sika Manu to go over from close range right in front of the massed faithful.
Sneyd made no mistake with the extras and Hull in the front for the first time with 24 minutes to play.
The lead was to be short lived though as Liam Sutcliffe tip toed his way through some weak tackling from Kelly and Shaul to slide over and Watkins slotted his third conversion to restore a 2 point home lead. Five minutes later the Sneyd/Connor combination nearly worked again, Connor challenged Hall for the kick but he knocked the ball forward, regathered and plonked it over the line but the ‘try’ was rightly chalked off.
The Leeds defence was solid though and Hull couldn’t find the killer pass, Watts was called for a forward pass to Ellis as he powered through a gap and the chance was gone.
The outstanding Cuthbertson then forced a drop out when his clever kick on the last was dealt with by Josh Griffin but he couldn’t beat the tacklers. Sneyd then forced a drop out when Tom Briscoe couldn’t clear his line in time. As Hull desperately tried to get the winner Josh Bowden dropped the ball 20 metres out. Both sides were out on their feet after a tremendous battle and Hull’s Grand Final dreams came to an end as Fonua looked to break up field but knocked on as he looked for a quick play the ball and it was all over. Full Time: Leeds 18-16 Hull
Leeds will now play Castleford at the Theatre of Dreams next Saturday to decide who is SuperLeague champions 2017.