Leeds strengthened their Super League play-off hopes and virtually extinguished those of Hull with a golden-point 25-24 victory at St James’ Park, where 35,104 fans celebrated the return of the Dacia Magic Weekend to Newcastle.
The last game of the opening day kicked off 30 minutes late after the dramatic clash between Catalans Dragons and St Helens went to extra-time, but the action was every bit as compelling and produced another memorable finale.
The Rhinos fought back from 24-14 down to level the scores and force extra-time and it took them until the second period of extra-time to land the winner through Kruise Leeming’s drop goal.
It clinched a fourth Leeds win from their last five matches, while a seventh defeat in eight games leaves Hull’s top-six hopes hanging by a thread.
Brett Hodgson’s men will now need to win their last two matches of the regular season and hope either Leeds or Castleford lose both their last two.
Hull restored Jamie Shaul to full-back for the first time for almost 11 months following his recovery from major knee surgery, with Jake Connor switching effectively into the halves.
Leeds also had full-back Jack Broadbent back from a two-month absence and, although Richie Myler continued in that role, coach Richard Agar was forced to reshuffle his back division when stand-off Rob Lui went off with a head knock after 17 minutes.
Before then, the Rhinos made a dream start, with back-to-back penalties helping them lay siege to the Hull line.
The pressure paid off when second rower Rhyse Martin – celebrating his new contract – forced his way over for the opening try despite the attention of a trio of defenders.
Martin converted his own try and kicked a penalty to make it 8-0 before the Black and Whites began to work their way into the game.
Myler fumbled the ball from Marc Sneyd’s kick to gift a try to hooker Danny Houghton and Sneyd levelled the scores with a couple of goals before hoisting a high kick for centre Carlos Tuimavave to score the try that put Hull in front.
Prop Ligi Sao was close to extending the lead as he reached the tryline only to be dragged into the dead-ball area and Leeds were quickly back on level terms when centre Harry Newman exploded into the defensive line and out the other side for an opportunist try which Martin goaled.
Hull had a try by second rower Andre Savelio ruled out by the video referee but they turned around 16-14 in front with a second Sneyd penalty awarded for offside.
Sneyd added another penalty early in the second half and the game went further away from Leeds when he converted a try by Connor, which followed his own 40-20 kick, to increase his side’s lead to 24-14.
But the Rhinos were full of fight and Newman produced a delightful pass to get Leeming over at the corner for their third try after 53 minutes to keep the game in the balance.
Martin’s conversion went in off an upright to cut the deficit to four points and Leeds thought they had drawn level when winger Luke Briscoe took Brad Dwyer’s pass to cross in the corner – only for slow-motion replays to show he had a foot in touch.
There was no denying Broadbent, however, as he took Myler’s pass to scythe through for his side’s fourth try nine minutes from time.
The conversion looked a formality for Martin but the Papua New Guinea captain put his kick wide, to leave the scores locked at 24-24.
Sneyd’s hurried long-range drop-goal attempt three minutes from the end of normal time barely got off the ground and so the game went to extra-time.
Leeming had the first chance to win it but his one-point attempt was off target as was that of Myler, while Martin’s drop-goal attempt in the final seconds of the first half of extra-time rebounded back off the crossbar.
The contest was finally decided after 88 minutes when Leeming eventually found the target to bring an epic first day’s action to a close.