It was a ground-breaking afternoon for the greatest game as Channel 4 became the first free to air channel to cover a Super League encounter as the Leeds Rhinos hosted the Warrington Wolves who are under the new stewardship of ex-Rhinos coach Daryl Powell.
Warrington had sold over 2,000 tickets for the game, and with a big Saturday lunchtime home crowd at Emerald Headingley a vociferous crowd welcomed the sides onto the pitch in wet, blustery and cold winter conditions. The house was packed, the British public were on their sofas, and the scene was set for a fantastic season opener for these two sides with Grand Final aspirations.
A knock-on from Mike Cooper on twenty seconds gifted the Rhinos possession ten out from the Wolves line and it was quickly followed by a penalty for offside, but Warrington held their nerve as the Rhinos failed to capitalise.
Leeds, thanks to some Wolves errors, dominated the opening ten minutes but it was the Wolves who opened the scoring with a sensational first try as fast hand found Matty Ashton who went down the wing before finding the supporting Gareth Widdop infield to go over in clean air to score in the corner. Stefan Ratchford was unable to add the touchline conversion but totally against the run of play they had the lead.
With Richie Myler being helped from the field, an awful high tackle from James Bentley on Widdop on sixteen minutes saw the Rhinos debutant, signed in the close season from Saints, shown the red card. In an instant this was looking like a difficult ask for the Rhinos, down to twelve for an hour against a decent side like the Wolves.
On twenty the Rhinos were level when Zane Tetevano took a short pass from Brad Dwyer and crashed the line after the Wolves again conceded penalties. Rhyse Martin slotted over the conversion and the Rhinos were into the lead at 6-4.
Four minutes after taking the lead the Rhinos extended as Matt Prior, on his three hundredth career appearance, used great strength to push his way over the line and get the ball on the ground under a pile of Warrington players. Martin was again accurate with the boot for 12-4.
On thirty-two minutes Brad Dwyer was sin-binned for a late tackle, Leeds down to eleven for the remainder of the half.
Two minutes before the interval an expansive move from the Wolves enabled Josh Charnley to fully exploit the Rhinos lack of numbers as he went over on the overlap off an Ollie Holmes pass. Ratchford added the conversion to reduce the arrears to two points with a few seconds remaining on the clock.
With Dwyer back on the pitch the Rhinos celebrated with a sensational try as Ash Handley sprinted past Charnley to get a hand on a pinpoint Kruise Leeming kick through in the left corner. Martin banged the touchline conversion right between the uprights for 18-10.
On thirty-two it was Warrington´s time to suffer the flurry of Kendall cards when Oliver Holmes went high in the tackle on Donaldson but with an open hand the colour was just yellow. Martin took the opportunity to kick the penalty goal for a ten-point Leeds lead.
On sixty-four Prior hit Widdop late after he´d offloaded and after a set restart the ball was moved wide for Charley to walk over in at the right-hand corner for the third Wolves try of the afternoon. Ratchford slotted his kick between the uprights and the Rhinos lead was back down to four points.
With six minutes left on the clock Connor Wrench took a Ratchford pass to break the Leeds line and dive over to level the scores at 20-20. Ratchford hit the target with the conversion and the Wolves were two points ahead with five minutes remaining.
At the hooterit was Warrington who were holding on and a late mistake almost gifted the Rhinos a win at the death. This was a far from satisfactory Warrington performance against a Leeds side who played over sixty minutes with twelve men, and who will count themselves unlucky to have lost out. It was, however, a classic encounter for those watching on their sofas and a great advert for the game with a little bit of everything.
Leeds Rhinos: Walker, Fusitu´a, Briscoe, Sutcliffe, Handley (T), Sezer, Myler, Prior (T), Leeming, Tetevano (T), Bentley (SO on 16), Martin (4G), Smith. Subs: Oledzki, Dwyer (SB on 33), Gannon, Donaldson.
Warrington Wolves: Ratchford (3G), Charnley (2T), Mata´utia, Wrench (T), Ashton, Widdop (T), Williams, Mulhern, Clark D, Cooper, Currie, Holmes (SB on 48), Davis. Subs: Philbin, Clark J, Bullock, Walker.
Score Progression: 0-4, (SO), 4-4, 6-4, 10-4, 12-4, 12-8, 12-10 : HT : 16-10, 18-10, (SB), 20-10, 20-14, 20-16, 20-20, 20-22 : FT .
Referee: Chris Kendall.