Leeds coach Richard Agar admits the public reaction to the appearance of popular former player Rob Burrow may have contributed to an 18-12 win over Huddersfield that keeps their hopes of a Super League play-off alive.
Former UK scrum half Burrow was lavishly welcomed as guest of honor at Headingley on the launch day of his autobiography ‘Too Many Reasons To Live’, the story of his battle with Motor Neuron Disease.
The 10,000-strong crowd cheered as his three children presented the match ball to referee Ben Thaler and he told them, “I will never give in.”
Agar said: “All the guys made it a point to see him in the tunnel and he certainly inspired the crowd.
“The reception he received was of course expected, but it was still very emotional. His kids bringing the ball in and him clapping into the crowd were special moments and we have to enjoy them.
“I thought tonight the audience really got involved and played a part.”
The fans clapped in the seventh minute as a mark of respect for the former number seven at Leeds and cheered again as acting captain Ash Handley opened the scoring and ended a break, befitting of scrum half Callum McLelland, for his third try in as many games .
Huddersfield tied the score with a try from stand-off Will Pryce, but the Rhinos gradually came out on top and scored further tries via Richie Myler and Robert Lui to lead 18-4, before Huddersfield grabbed late consolation attempts via Sam Wood and Owen Trout after the home side were reduced to 12 men with the sin-binning of Zane Tetevano.
Rob Burrow’s children supplied the match ball (Richard Sellers/PA)
Agar added: “I am really proud of the team. It was a very lively and involved performance.
“Huddersfield can be a difficult team to break down. After making so many changes I can understand why our attack wasn’t as smooth or fluid as we would have liked, but we had to play that way to gain the upper hand.
“It was a game that we dominated for a long time and I’m not sure how we got just six points ahead of the scoreboard. I thought we had a lot better value. There was a bit of fatigue factor after we went to 12 men.
“We had to do what we had to do and I thought we did it right. We had over 50 percent of our salary cap, but I thought many of our young players were great again.
“Morgan Gannon is only 17 so I don’t want to put too much pressure on him, but it was a step forward for him tonight. It was a really eye-catching, impressive 80 minute performance from him.”
Leeds strengthened their play-off push (Richard Sellers/PA)
Huddersfield was hit by the late withdrawal of veteran stand-off Lee Gaskell with a recurrence of an ankle injury as they went down to a second straight defeat.
“We had to send him in for a scan at five o’clock,” said coach Ian Watson. “He had 10 weeks of rehab and trained with the team this week with no reaction, but last night he had some kind of reaction.
“He would have helped a lot tonight. Leeds had the quality of Rob Lui and we have a lot of guys learning in that position at the moment.
“We are a difficult team to beat, but we are currently being beaten by our naivety. It is great for the learning and development of our young players, but we have to be smart in certain areas.
“I thought we started well enough to give ourselves a chance. Leeds really limited us in the second half and we became a team with one out. We only really got a foothold in 25 minutes in the second half.”