Leeds snatched a remarkable 20-16 victory amid unbelievable tension to lift the league leaders’ shield on a night of high drama in Super League.
The Rhinos were heading for a fourth straight defeat – and an away semi-final – after Huddersfield established a 16-8 lead but they stormed back with 12 points in the last seven minutes to claim an unlikely 20-16 victory.
Right winger Tom Briscoe, Leeds’ five-try hero at Wembley, handed his side a lifeline with a 74th-minute score while left winger Ryan Hall grabbed the winner in the last move of an epic game.
It means the Rhinos, two-thirds of the way towards completing the treble, will host St Helens in the second semi-final next Friday while Wigan, who lost out in the battle for top spot despite a 47-12 win over Castleford, play Huddersfield at the DW Stadium on Thursday.
The John Smith’s Stadium was no place for the faint-hearted as scores flashed over from the DW Stadium and the helicopter based at the City Airport on the outskirts of Manchester began to hover between the two destinations with the prized trophy.
Points were at a premium throughout a close-fought first half but there was no shortage of excitement, with Huddersfield demonstrating just why they have the best defence in Super League.
Leeds drew first blood after nine minutes when second rower Stevie Ward collected skipper Kevin Sinfield’s pass to glide through a rare hole in the home defence to touch down.
But when Hall fumbled the ball into touch from the re-start, it gifted the Giants a perfect attacking position and they made the most of it, with prolific right winger Jermaine McGillvary diving over at the corner for his 27th try of the season.
The score maintained McGillvary’s record of scoring in all seven rounds of the Super 8s and virtually guarantees he finishes the season as Super League’s leading tryscorer.
Danny Brough’s touchline conversion levelled the scores but Sinfield edged his side into an 8-6 interval lead with a 40-metre penalty.
Brough brought his side level with a penalty on 48 minutes before McGillvary got the Giants on a counter-attack which produced what looked to be the pivotal score.
Second rower Jack Hughes, who is on loan from Wigan, gathered the ball from Brough’s high kick and combined with centre Leroy Cudjoe to get scrum-half Jamie Ellis sprinting over for a try.
Brough landed his second conversion and shortly afterwards kicked a second penalty to open up an eight-point lead but the drama continued as Briscoe went over on 74 minutes for his side’s second try.
Sinfield’s touchline conversion cut the gap to just two points and levelled the scores for a third time with a penalty before Hall collected McGuire’s kick over the Huddersfield defence to sprint away for the match-winning try.