Leeds’ Ash Handley scored a hat-trick as the Rhinos came from behind to beat a decimated Hull 40-22 at Headingley.
Rhinos full-back Jack Walker also pressed his claims for a Wembley berth with a superb performance, as the 21-year-old was recalled for only his second appearance in six months and seizing his opportunity by producing two tries and an assist.
Walker, who has been nursing a foot injury for most of the year, got his chance when coach Richard Agar switched Richie Myler back into the halves in the absence of Robert Lui and he now faces a selection dilemma ahead of the big game.
Handley’s three tries took his tally for the season to 15 and makes him Super League’s leading scorer but the honours arguably went to Hull, who stepped in at less than 24 hours notice to fill the vacancy created by Castleford’s inability to raise a team.
Victory for the Rhinos takes them back 4th tonight in the Super League table with Ash Handley scoring a hat trick and two for Jack Walker, well done to Hull FC for their efforts tonight at short notice pic.twitter.com/WdUO4FY0sZ
The Black and Whites were without four players because of Covid-19 and nine others through injury, the absentees including skipper Danny Houghton and vice-captain Scott Taylor.
It meant a first start for stand-off Ben McNamara, the 18-year-old son of Catalans Dragons coach Steve McNamara, and opportunities for a host of other fringe players.
But Hull could still call on the vast experience of Jake Connor and Marc Sneyd and they could barely have made a better start.
Centre Mahe Fonua took a short pass from Connor to go over for the opening try and eight minutes later second rower Andre Savelio forced his way over from close range for the second.
Sneyd kicked a conversion to make it 10-0 and winger Bureta Faraimo almost added a third try midway through the first half before knocking on over the line.
Leeds were without Myler at the time after he was sent to the sin bin for a professional foul and they were still down to 12 men when they began their fightback.
Handley palmed the ball back from Luke Gale’s lofted kick for Walker to score his first try.
Rhyse Martin added the touchline conversion and the Rhinos drew level three minutes later when Handley took Walker’s pass to cross for his first try, and they hit the lead three minutes before half-time when prop Matt Prior’s one-handed offload enabled Walker to score his second try.
Trailing 16-10 at the break, the game began to slip away from the Black and Whites when they conceded two tries in three minutes early in the second half.
Substitute second rower James Donaldson forced his way over from close range and hooker Brad Dwyer broke from inside his own half to get Handley over for his second try.
Martin took his goal tally to four and extended the lead to 28-10 but Hull were in no mood to wave the white flag.
Magnificent 40-20 kicks from Connor and Sneyd set up the position for prop Jack Brown and centre Josh Griffin to score tries and Sneyd’s two conversions brought Hull to within six points.
But the Rhinos finished the game strongly, with centre Liam Sutcliffe touching down Gale’s kick and Handley intercepting Connor’s pass to complete his hat-trick.
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