LEEDS RHINOS’ youngsters were ‘old-manned’ by a 37-year-old forward who made his professional debut before some of them were born.
Jamie Thackray turned the game as League One Doncaster wiped out a 30-12 interval deficit to win 35-34 in a roller-coaster encounter at Keepmoat Stadium.
A Rhinos team made up mainly of teenagers gave a great account of themselves in the first half, when Jordan Lilley ran the game. But Doncaster dominated after half-time as Thackray – a Leeds-born former Rhino – made his size, skill and vast experience count. He got the hosts on the front-foot and they were too fast and strong, though the game was only won when Jake Miller landed a drop goal with the final kick.
They shouldn’t have lost from 18 points up, but Leeds could take a lot of positives from an excellent first-half display. Lilley’s half-back combination with Cory Aston worked well and they had quality support from Jordan Baldwinson and Josh Walters, the 22 year olds who were Rhinos’ oldest players.
Leeds’ side included a couple of new signings and five players stepping up from the under-16s, one of whom, Kiedan Hartley, opened the scoring on four minutes with a well-taken interception try from close to his own line. Three minutes later Lilley landed a 40-20 and in the next set Baldwinson charged over from close-range.
Jason Tali pulled a try back for the hosts, but Lilley’s excellent pass was finished strongly by Walters and then Spencer Darley touched down off Harvey Whiteley’s pass.
Two minutes before the break Thackeray, whose first appearance for Hunslet was in 1997, scored from Jordan Howden’s pip-point kick and Tom Carr’s second conversion made it 24-12.
Doncaster were pressing as the hooter sounded, but Lilley intercepted in a similar spot to Hartley earlier in the game and Alex Sutcliffe, who had earlier made a stunning try-saving tackle on Tali, was in support to score and Lilley landed his fifth conversion.
Doncaster were level within 12 minutes of the restart. Ryan Wright – a Rhinos academy product – caught the visitors’ defence napping from acting-half three minutes after the break, Charlie Martin touched down soon afterwards and then Thackray bagged his second, Carr converting all three.
Rhinos went back in front through Hartley’s second try, created by Walters, but veteran winger Richie Barnett squared matters again with 10 minutes left to set up Miller’s last-gasp winner.
Rhinos’ academy coach Adrian Morley said: “The Doncaster players’ experience shone through, [Feka] Paleaaesina and Thackray in particular.
“I thought our young lads gave a good account of themselves, but it’s a lesson. They let them dictate the speed of the play-the-ball and you can’t let teams do that.
“But I was pleased with their effort and I don’t think they deserved the loss. A draw would have been a good result, but there were some good performances and overall I was pleased.”
Doncaster: Carr, Lancaster, Doherty, Tali, Barnett, Howden, Miller, Scott, Kesik, Spiers, Martin, Welham, Hanson. Subs Cross, Paleaaesina, Thackray, Heil, Braham, Wright, Jones-Bishop, Muranka.
Leeds Rhinos: Walker, Chapman-Smith, Newman, A Sutcliffe, Hartley, Aston, Lilley, Baldwinson, Hallas, Oledzki, Waite-Pullan, Walters, Jordan-Roberts. Subs Brady, Darley, Kelly, Trout, Nuttall, Mustapha, McConnell, Whiteley, Schofield.
Referee: Tom Grant (Leeds).