Rob Burrow’s defiant message spurs Leeds to victory over Huddersfield

Rob Burrow was many things as a rugby league player. But both throughout a glittering playing career with Leeds Rhinos and now, in his biggest battle of all with motor neurone disease, the one thing you have always been guaranteed from Burrow is fight and uncompromising spirit. How his beloved club channelled those characteristics here.

If Leeds are to make the Super League play-offs this season, they will have done it the hard way. Ravaged by injuries all season – though, in fairness, the same has been true for many clubs – the eight-times Super League champions have somehow put themselves in a position to compete in the end-of-season shake-up at a time when more than half their salary cap is unavailable.

But on a night when Burrow was the guest of honour at Headingley, you felt it was inevitable Leeds would deliver a result and a performance that he would have cherished. Here, it was not necessarily the tries they scored to defeat Huddersfield and further strengthen their position in the top six, but the defensive resolve at the opposite end to keep their title hopes alive.

With Burrow’s children delivering the match ball, emotions were high inside Headingley before a ball had even been kicked. Burrow’s own defiant speech to the crowd, insisting he will “never give up” in his fight against MND, was surely all the Leeds players needed in the way of motivation.

And they made a decent start. After weathering an early storm from Huddersfield, Leeds went ahead when a wonderful break from Callum McLelland was finished by the Leeds captain for the night, Ash Handley. Handley missed the conversion attempt from wide but the hosts were 4-0 ahead nonetheless.

As the half wore on the visitors gradually eased their way into the contest. Safe from relegation fears and adrift of the play-off places, there is an argument that Huddersfield are playing for pride for the remainder of this season. They showed plenty of that though, underlined by the try which drew them level.

After McLelland’s break for Handley’s try, it was another young English half-back who had a hand in Huddersfield’s opener, as Will Pryce benefited from a fortunate deflection off a Leeds defender to race across in the corner. He, like Handley, missed the conversion, leaving the scores level at 4-4.

But by half-time, Leeds were back in front. Their second try came amid a fraction of chaos; Rob Lui’s kick was eventually hacked ahead by Luke Briscoe, and as the Huddersfield defenders frantically chased back, Richie Myler won the race to the ball to give the Rhinos the advantage.

Handley converted that try to make it 10-4 but in the early stages of the second half he became the latest Leeds player to succumb to injury. But Harry Newman assumed the goal-kicking responsibilities in his place in impressive fashion, kicking back-to-back penalties just before the hour mark to open a two-score gap for the first time on the night.

Then, as the game entered the final quarter, Leeds struck a potentially decisive blow. With the hosts piling the pressure on the Huddersfield line, the visitors eventually buckled when an inch-perfect pass from Kruise Leeming sent Lui – who will retire at the end of this season – through a gap to increase Leeds’ cushion further. It was a try Burrow would have been undeniably proud of.

Huddersfield, to their credit, pushed for further points after that. But time and time again they were repelled by determined, resolute last-ditch defending from Leeds on their own line. By the time they eventually did score in the final minutes, courtesy of Sam Wood and Owen Trout, the game was gone. This was the Rhinos’ night but, more importantly, it was Burrow’s. As the home support chanted his name throughout the final minutes to the final hooter, you can’t help but feel he would have raised a smile.

Leeds Myler; L Briscoe, Newman, T Briscoe, Handley; McLelland, Lui; Tetevano, Leeming, Thompson, Donaldson, Gannon, O’Connor. Interchange Holroyd, Dwyer, Vuniyayawa, Walters.

Huddersfield Golding; Cudjoe, Wardle, Wood, Senior; Cogger, Pryce; Trout, Peats, Wilson, Jones, Greenwood, Yates. Interchange Peteru, Russell, English, Hewitt.

Referee B Thaler.

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