Last gasp Briers drop goal sinks Rhinos
Warrington Wolves 19 Leeds Rhinos 18
By Alan Domville (photo courtesy of Neil Ashurst, P&B Pictures)
He's done it before - and he's done it again! Lee Briers calmly slotted home a drop goal 51 seconds from the end of this pulsating game against the Super League champions to keep Warrington on track for Old Trafford.
The one-point victory was sweet revenge for the narrow defeat at Headingley earlier in the season and it opens up a valuable six point gap between the visitors and ourselves, eliminating the advantage Leeds have enjoyed with a game in hand.
Warrington have moved into second place above Huddersfield but remain two points behind Wigan who came from behind to beat Bradford at home.
Micky Higham, man of the match against Wigan two weeks ago, was back after missing the game at Bradford last Sunday and gave another 110 per cent performance, scoring the opening try with some superb opportunist play that fooled the Leeds defence and deservedly won both Sky and the sponsors' accolades.
Joel Monaghan also returned to the colours and Mike Cooper started at loose forward.
Absentees were Richie Myler who also missed the game at Odsal and Michael Monaghan.
Leeds coach Brian McDermott was able to select the same squad of 19 he chose for his side's win at Widnes with debutant Alex Foster retaining his place on the bench. But that meant he was still without the injured first teamers Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Danny Maguire, Kylie Leuluai, Stevie Ward and Brett Delaney.
This was far from an under-strength Leeds, however, and Warrington could count themselves slightly fortunate that Zak Hardaker was unable to convert three of their tries - but take nothing away from their late fightback.
From Stefan Ratchford's kick-off Warrington displayed their determination to win this match putting three defenders in all but one of the first five Leeds tackles.
A Briers kick to the corner in the first home set also spelled intent but didn't yield any points.
Next Higham was tackled just short and Ratchford was tackled on his back over the line.
Then came a touch of brilliance from Higham who instead of passing put in a lovely kick across the line, followed up and dived on the ball to touch down. Brett Hodgson converted and it was 6-0 in six minutes.
A strong run by Ryan Hall put Rob Burrow away but the latter was the victim of a swinging arm. The subsequent penalty put Leeds deep into Wolves territory and Hall was able to sneak in near the corner. Hardaker's kick was well wide.
Both sides were having difficulty in holding on to the ball but Leeds capitalised on one home lapse when newcomer Liam Sutcliffe ran 80 metres to score. Again Hardaker's conversion attempt failed.
Ryan Atkins then collected a loose ball to trigger a Warrington attack but the move ended with Joel Monaghan booting the ball dead - and for his trouble Atkins had to leave the field with a knock and didn't return to the action.
Leeds then kicked out on the full, Warrington swept back on the attack but a Briers kick to the corner was followed by more handling errors by both sides.
Chris Hill lost the ball just short of the line but Higham followed up and looked to have scored; video referee Phil Bentham ruled it out and gave Leeds a scrum.
Mick Achurch came on as a substitute and in his first involvement in the action he injured his leg and had to be helped off again.
A massive 40-20 attempt by Burrow just failed to go into touch.
Sutcliffe looked to be off again on another scoring run soon afterwards but he was brought back for a forward pass - to the ironic surprise of the south stand spectators who had been expressing their discontent at what they considered to be a procession of such things.
The tackle of the match by Ben Westwood caused Leeds to spill the ball - but he too suffered the same fate on his next drive forward.
Warrington were turning up the pressure, however. Hodgson put Ratchford away in midfield for a defence splitting run, Garreth Carvell was tackled on his back just over the line and Mike Cooper was just inches away when he was tackled. A Ratchford kick then forced a Leeds goal line drop out and in the subsequent attack Briers put Morley on a great run up the middle.
Both sides had shown terrific commitment throughout the first half but were both guilty of surrendering too much valuable possession - and one wondered which of them would come out with enough Blu Tak for the second period.
With the news that Wigan were trailing to Bradford, Wolves could not have had any greater incentive to give everything they had - and an offence against Trent Waterhouse put them deep into the Leeds half.
But then a Briers pass went astray, Hall intercepted and raced 90 metres to score his second try - though he was almost caught by Chris Riley. Hardaker then missed his third kick at goal but it was 12-6 to the visitors.
The "knock-onathon" continued for both sides but happily it was Warrington who struck next. Ratchford found a way through to touch down, Hodgson goaled and the scores were level.
Warrington looked reinvigorated by the score - but Leeds were able to pull ahead again with a classic ball-handling move that split the home defence, Hardaker racing over to complete the move. This time he was able to convert.
Wolves were far from done, however. With 17 minutes left a Briers kick to the corner was fisted back by an aerial Joel Monaghan into the hands of Hodgson who touched down. Phil Bentham was asked to adjudicate - and gave the try. Hodgson goaled and the scores were equal once again ay 18-18.
Briers penned Leeds back in their own half with some testing kicks and four return sets all ended with Hodgson taking the kick after the fifth.
Ratchford's kick to the corner meant Leeds had to feed the scrum 10 metres from their own line and they just made half way before knocking on. And they did so again soon afterwards when Hodgson and Foster clashed and needed treatment.
With three minutes left Briers stepped up with a drop goal attempt that went wide. Now Leeds had to be prevented yet again from entering Wolves territory and the home defence made sure they only reached half way. With the clock ticking towards the final minute, Briers was in the right place at the right time and fired home the winner, just as he did in that play-off classic at Headingley in 2006 when it finished 18-17.
Armed Forces night at the Halliwell Jones had provided a feast of rich entertainment: In addition to the main event, Warrington Under 19s also beat Leeds and Stockton Heath narrowly won the Cheshire Fire Service sevens competition final against Great Sankey.
Brett Hodgson; Chris Riley, Ryan Atkins, Simon Grix, Joel Monaghan; Lee Briers, Stefan Ratchford; Chris Hill, Micky Higham, Paul Wood, Trent Waterhouse, Ben Westwood, Mike Cooper
Substitutes: Adrian Morley, Garreth Carvell, Ben Currie,
Tries: Higham, Ratchford, Hodgson
Goals: Hodgson (3)
Drop goal: Briers
Zak Hardaker; Ben Jones-Bishop, Kallum Watkins, Joel Moon, Ryan Hall; Liam Sutcliffe, Rob Burrow; Richard Moore, Paul McShane, Jamie Peacock, Carl Ablett, Chris Clarkson, Brad Singleton
Substitutes: Mitch Achurch, Ian Kirke, Jimmy Keinhorst, Alex Foster
Tries: Hall (2), Sutcliffe, Hardaker
Wolves' head of coaching and rugby Tony Smith said: "We found a way. I'm not going to take anything away from Leeds, I thought their effort was enormous. They probably weren't at their slickest either but I've got to mention JP (Jamie Peacock); I thought that was his best game by a long way for a long time. He was very instrumental in their performance. In the same breath I've got to say the same about Bennie Westwood I thought he was very, very good.
"We haven't attacked that badly in a long, long time and we haven't kicked that badly since last year's Grand Final. They (Leeds) are a tricky team at the moment, doing things defensively that no other team in the competition is doing and we probably didn't handle that in the way we would have liked to.
"Our boys have been very, very good for quite a while now, building up and if we are going to have a performance that's a bit off that's understandable. We've actually played a lot better than that and been beaten this year but that's not meant in any way shape or form to taking anything away from Leeds, I just thought we were way off our attacking game; they capitalised on a few of our errors but they probably didn't punish us as much as they could have or have done in the past."
He added: "We've been in good shape, got good numbers with people coming back from injury. We are in a good place at the moment. Unfortunately it looks like we'll have an injury with Ryan Atkins but that's part and parcel of our sport. We've got many to choose from and plenty waiting in the wings for their opportunity. We've been playing well and need to keep that going and will brush up on some of our skills this week."
Game photos below courtesy of Bob Brough
06, Jul, 2013