Leeds took inspiration from the appearance of popular former player Rob Burrow on an emotional evening at Headingley to grind out an 18-12 victory over Huddersfield that keeps alive their Super League top-six play-off hopes.
Former Great Britain scrum-half Burrow was given a rapturous welcome as guest of honour on the day of the launch of his autobiography “Too Many Reasons To Live”, the story of his battle with motor neurone disease.
The 10,000-strong crowd then roared its approval as his three children presented the match ball to referee Ben Thaler and he told them: “I will never give in.”
McLelland was back in the side after recovering from a head knock and found himself playing alongside his third half-back partner in as many games in Rob Lui and both played key roles in the hard-fought victory.
The Rhinos, who lost Luke Gale, Konrad Hurrell and Rhyse Martin following last week’s win at Leigh, were forced into a late change when forward Cameron Smith pulled out through Covid-19 and they lacked cohesion at times in the first half.
Coach Richard Agar was also forced into a reshuffle when centre Harry Newman went off for a head injury assessment midway through the first half, although he was able to return for the second half.
Huddersfield, also lacking a handful of regulars, had created the first chance of the match when veteran centre Leroy Cudjoe gave his winger Sam Wood a sight of the line but he lost control of the ball at the crucial time.
The visitors drew level on 23 minutes, though, when Cudjoe’s pass to Wood was deflected by McLelland in the defensive line and teenage stand-off Will Pryce was gifted a try.
There was little to choose between the teams at that stage but Leeds regained the lead five minutes before the break when the Giants failed to clear the danger posed by Lui’s grubber kick into space and full-back Richie Myler pounced for the try.
Handley, handed the kicking duties in the absence of Gale and Martin, landed the touchline conversion to make it 10-4.
Leeds then dominated the early stages of the second half and extended their lead with a couple of penalties from Newman.
Huddersfield were full of spirit but lacked creativity to trouble the hard-working Rhinos defence and it was no surprise when the home side went further in front, former Giants hooker Kruise Leeming putting Lui through a gap for their third try on the hour.
A series of defensive errors enabled Leeds to tighten their grip and Huddersfield coach Ian Watson responded by withdrawing Louis Senior and switching full-back Ashton Golding to the wing.
Leeds had forward Zane Tetevano sin-binned eight minutes from the end for a late tackle and the Giants took advantage of the extra man to create a try for Wood, who then put in a kick for former Rhinos forward Owen Trout to grab another in the last minute.