With the Ladbroke's Challenge Cup safely returned to the trophy cabinet, Hull FC turned their attention to a top two finish and semi-final home advantage in the play-offs. They needed to defeat the Leeds Rhinos at a Headingley which would seem a little less atmospheric than normal as the demolition crews moved into the South Stand. A win for the home side would almost guarantee them a home play-off.
There were a couple of changes for the Leeds Rhinos with Mitch Garbutt returning from injury and on the bench and Rob Burrow being brought from the bench into the starting line up after Joel Moon was a very late withdrawal with a groin tweak in the warm up. Lee Radford made a number of changes to his cup winning side bringing in Steve Michaels for the injured Griffin, Josh Bowden came off the bench for Watts, and Jansin Turgut replaced Minichiello in the second row, Brad Fash and Jordan Thompson were both named on the bench.
The Rhinos drew first blood on six minutes Tom Briscoe went up for a high kick from Rob Burrow and palmed the ball back towards his own line, but Hullís Fetuli Talanoa got a hand in and knocked it into his own goal area where Burrow chased the loose ball and grounded it in goal. Watkins added the extras.
FC were back on level terms with an electric try on fourteen. Mahe Fonua broke down the right after busting the Leeds line off an Albert Kelly pass before finding Steve Michaels to go ten metres to the line and improve the angle for Marc Sneyd to kick the conversion.
Within ninety seconds the Rhinos struck back when Brad Singleton took a short pass from Danny Mcguire to crash between two tacklers and dive over the line under the sticks. Watkins kicked his second of the night for 12-6.
Back to back penalties for Hull saw them deep inside the Leeds twenty. On the second tackle Scott Taylor spun out of a tackle and dropped over the line by the left upright. Sneyd added the extras and on twenty-one minutes the sides were tied up. The attack was inspired, but the defence from both sides left a bit to be desired.
Gareth Ellis was sin-binned on twenty-five for a dangerous contact on Stevie Ward as the Rhinos second row went off for an assessment.
Just before the half-hour, the Rhinos hit the front again against the twelve men when Rob Burrow went from acting half-back and found Liam Sutcliffe to go five metres and score. Kallum Watkins converted in off the upright for 18-12.
When the Rhinos interfered at the play the ball forty metres from their own sticks Sneyd took the opportunity to run the clock down, and kick the penalty, to reduce the arrears to four points.
Shaul dropped a high kick to put his side in all sorts of trouble. Two penalties quickly followed before Mitch Garbutt powered his way to the line to ground with his forearm under pressure from four tacklers. Watkins was again accurate with the boot and despite Ellis being back on the field the Rhinos were 24-14 ahead with three minutes left on the clock.
An early second half onslaught from FC saw Danny Washbrook crash over off an Albert Kelly short pass with forty-five on the clock. Sneyd kicked the conversion for 24-20 and it was game on again.
But in a game of tit-for-tat the Rhinos scored on forty-eight thanks to Jamie Jones-Buchanan offload, a Jack Walker line break, and perfectly timed pass to Adam Cuthbertson for the prop forward to go twenty metres to score. Watkins kicked the conversion for a 30-20 Rhinos lead.
A crazy penalty conceeded by Sika Manu, lifting Jones-Buchanans leg under his own sticks with the ball in his hand, gifted Watkins a penalty to stretch the lead to twelve points.
On sixty-one Josh Bowden went over under the Rhinos sticks after wrong-footing Jack Walker. Sneyd kicked the two for 32-26.
A high tackle from Jordan Thompson on Stevie Ward gave Watkins a penalty attempt from wide but he failed to kick it but on sixty-eight an interference at the play the ball was kicked from directly under the sticks to extend the Rhinos lead to eight points.
The Rhinos sealed the win when McGuire put in a delightful chip over the Hull defence and the ball was collected by Matt Parcell at full speed to take the ball and dive over the line in one movement. Watkins failed to kick the conversion on the final hooter but the Rhinos had a 38-26 win.
This win for the Rhinos guarantees them a place in the play-offs and puts them within just one point, from their remaining three games, of securing the second of the two home semi-finals, a game which could see another match up with FC. The Airlie Birds now have a real scrap on their hands if they are to make it to Old Trafford and will be biting their nails over their final three fixtures as they try to ensure their own play-off spot.
Rhinos: Walker, Briscoe, Watkins (7G), Sutcliffe L. (T), Hall, Burrow (T), McGuire, Cuthbertson (T), Parcell (T), Singleton (T), Ward, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett. Subs: Mullally, Garbutt (T), Keinhorst, Delaney.
FC: Shaul, Michaels (T), Fonua, Tuimavave, Talanoa, Kelly, Sneyd (5G), Taylor (T), Houghton, Bowden (T), Manu, Turgut, Ellis (SB). Subs: Connor, Fash, Thompson, Washbrook (T).
Referee: James Child.