In the end, it took Danny Buderus‘ try in the 72nd minute to put the game beyond all about but it was four tries scored in the middle third of the match that ensured the Rhinos progress.
Crusaders started the game well and scored the game’s first try through Hep Cahill. Leeds’ game plan was ripped to shreds inside the first quarter as they lost both Danny McGuire and Brent Webb through injury.
The visitors were finding some success down the Leeds right hand defence, and a fine break by Elliot Kear set up the next try. The young winger, making his first Crusaders appearance of the year, was sent racing away by a flat pass from Rhys Hanbury and his smart kick forward was gathered by Hanbury under the sticks to put the Welsh side 10-0 in front.
It was 20 minutes before Leeds really had sustained field position to write home about, forcing a repeat set and then taking advantage when Jay Pitts dummied his way through a gap to edge close to the line. From the resulting play the ball, Paul McShane took advantage of some weak marker play by Gareth Thomas to get his side on the board.
Leeds had pinpointed something of a weakness in the Crusaders defence, targeting half-back Michael Witt and Thomas down the Crusaders right, and it was Pitts himself who crossed the whitewash, with Kevin Sinfield‘s conversion putting Leeds 12-10 in front.
But Crusaders weren’t about to lie down and they nearly scored a superb try on the half hour mark. Schifcofske recovered a kick and released Kear down the left. He shrugged off a weak Keith Senior tackle to race away down the left, before handing inside to Schifcofske who set off towards the line, only to be denied by a superb covering tackle by Leeds’ opposite winger Ryan Hall.
Fresh from that let off, Leeds put a bit of breathing space between the two teams when Burrow left Witt for dead to cross in the corner and give the Rhinos an 18-10 half time lead.
The writing looked on the wall early in the second half when Hall immediately extended Leeds’ advantage to 24-10, with the help of a Sinfield goal, but there was more injury woe for the Rhinos when Chris Clarkson was carried off following a long stoppage.
With the home side now down to 14 players and half hour on the clock, Crusaders were visibly boosted and they clawed their way back in to the game off the next set. A quick play the ball by Lloyd White left the Leeds defence stretched, and Kear found space on the left hand side to touch down.
Moments later, a superb Witt 40/20 put the Crusaders in an excellent position once again, but they squandered possession when Thomas allowed Schifcofske’s pass to fall behind, despite suggestions that Leeds winger Hall had got a touch.
The game though was turned on its head when Crusaders forward Cahill was given a red card for kicking at Burrow. After hacking the ball forward, Cahill set off on a 40 yard dash to chase it, and after losing the foot race to Burrow, lashed out at the Leeds scrum half and was sent for an early bath by referee Steve Ganson.
That seemed to be game over at 24-14, but Crusaders give themselves hope with 10 minutes left when brilliant play by Witt sucked in the defence, and his offload allowed Peter Lupton to cross and reduce arrears to four.
But almost as soon as the hope appeared, it diminished, as Jarrod Sammut knocked on from the kick-off, giving the platform for Buderus to dart over from dummy half and finally put the game to bed.
Leeds: Webb, Hall, Senior, Delaney, Smith, Sinfield, Burrow, Leuluai, Buderus, Peacock, Ablett, Pitts, Clarkson. Subs: McGuire, Burgess, McShane, Kirke.
Tries: McShane 23, Pitts 26, Burrow 32, Hall 42, Buderus 72.
Goals: Sinfield 5
Crusaders: Schifcofske, Reardon, Thomas, Mellars, Kear, Hanbury, Witt, Moore, White, O’Hara, Winterstein, Cahill, Lupton. Subs: Sammut, Bryant, Flower, Dudson.
Tries: Cahill 6, Hanbury 12, Kear 51, Lupton 69.
Goals: Schifcofske 2