There are still plenty of twists and turns to come this season, but the boos at full-time from the home supporters underlined how these two teams are heading in different directions.
Hull FC have now lost four consecutive games and, from a position of relative comfort inside the Super League playoffs a month ago, could be outside the top six next weekend. This was an opportunity to all but end Leeds’s chances of making the playoffs but instead the Rhinos delivered their best performance of the season when it mattered most.
“We’ve been working hard on all aspects of our game since I arrived, but that’s the first time where it’s been an all-round performance and where we’ve been in control throughout,” the Leeds coach, Rohan Smith, said after what was the Rhinos’ biggest victory at Hull in the Super League era.
They have somewhat laboured their way through the first half of the regular season and that is being polite. But since his arrival from Australia in May, Smith has promised the Rhinos would at least provide entertainment, and how they did that here with 11 wonderful tries, five of them to Ash Handley, as they reduced the gap to sixth-placed Hull to three points. The final outcome is all the more remarkable given how much the contest was in the balance at half-time.
Leeds led 22-10 at the interval as tries from Mikolaj Oledzki, Kruise Leeming and two for Handley came either side of a quickfire double from the hosts courtesy of Darnell McIntosh and Danny Houghton. When Hull scored first after the restart through Chris Satae, it was 22-16 and, suddenly, very much game on. However, the visitors responded superbly to take the game by storm in a blistering final 25 minutes.
“I genuinely don’t have a reason for what happened in that last 25 minutes,” Hull’s coach, Brett Hodgson, said. “It’s very difficult. We fell back into our old habits. It’s going to be a tough week.”
With a Magic Weekend derby against seventh-placed Hull KR next, this could be a season-defining week for Hull. As for Leeds, they can look ahead with optimism.
Leeming’s second try, followed by a wonderful free-flowing move that was finished by Richie Myler, put Leeds back in control before the Rhinos ran riot in the final quarter. Liam Sutcliffe was next to cross and Blake Austin’s kick then found David Fusitu’a unmarked in the corner.
Handley compounded Hull’s misery in the final 10 minutes with three more tries but, by then, most of the home fans had already headed for the exits.