AUSSIE HOOKER Matt Parcell made an encouraging debut as Leeds Rhinos comprehensively saw off Hull KR 30-4 in Ryan Hall’s testimonial game.
Rovers matched the hosts for much of the way, but three tries in seven minutes either side of the interval turned the game decisively in Leeds’ favour.
This was more of a Qualifiers tie than a Super League game and Rhinos will face much tougher opposition than Hull KR when the real business starts.
That said, there were more positives than negatives – though Rhinos will need to step up several gears to challenge for trophies this year.
Leeds played better than they did in the first half of last season, there were signs their attack has improved and they defended strongly.
It may have been a trial game, but anything other than a convincing Leeds win would have been a severe jolt to confidence – on the pitch and terraces – which had already been dented by the Boxing Day loss to Wakefield.
Leeds’ squad was their strongest-available, missing only injured forwards Keith Galloway, Stevie Ward and Brett Ferres, who will add to Rhinos’ defensive strength when they return.
The hosts lined up from one-seven in squad order and of the starting 13, only Mitch Garbutt and Brad Singleton weren’t in a position corresponding to their shirt number.
With Cory Aston and Jack Ormondroyd both due to play for Featherstone Rovers on dual-registration tomorrow, Parcell was the only new signing in Leeds’ 21.
He did well in difficult circumstances. The former Brisbane Broncos and Manly Sea Eagles man arrived in England only eight days ago and will obviously take time to settle in, but he looked fit and quick out of dummy-half.
It appears Parcell will give Leeds more creativity, particularly when he develops an understanding with his team-mates, and the starting halves, Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow, both looked sharp.
The disappointment was a lack of opportunities for Hall, who didn’t get a running chance, though one catch from a high Jamie Ellis kick under pressure on Leeds’ line was top class.
And he provided a rousing moment late on when Jimmy Keinhorst scored wide out and the ‘World’s Best Winger’ landed the goal from the left touchline.
The names on Rovers teamsheet were a poor argument against relegation. They are arguably stronger now than when they lost the million pound match last October and, if they perform to their potential, should be back in the one-off Super League decider – at least – this year.
The visitors fielded a starting front-row of former Leeds Grand Final winners – Nick Scruton, Shaun Lunt and Chris Clarkson – and other ex-Rhinos in their 20 were centre Thomas Minns and substitute forwards George Milton and Robbie Mulhern.
Rovers made too many handling errors and were rather one-dimensional with the ball, but they defended well for long spells.
Leeds went ahead after six minutes when McGuire’s short pass found Jamie Jones-Buchanan and he burst past a couple of attempted tackles to cross between the posts.
The most recent of Burrow’s 152 goals in competitive rugby for Leeds was in 2014, but – with Jordan Lilley and Liam Sutcliffe on the bench – he took kicking duties and landed four conversions from as many attempts. He also kicked a 40-20 in the second half.
Rovers forced a couple of early goal-line drop outs. Adam Quinlan, the full-back who had a spell with St Helens last year, dropped the first, but the second led to a try.
Ellis, who played for Castleford at Wembley against Leeds in 2014, looped out a tremendous pass to right-winger Ryan Shaw and he finished strongly at the corner, though it was too far out for him to convert.
Quinlan produced a try-saving tackle to stop Carl Ablett, who had hit space from Burrow’s pass midway through the half.
The Aussie was penalised for interference as Leeds received three successive penalties, but Tom Briscoe was barged into touch by Minns off Ashton Golding’s pass.
Golding was involved in Leeds’ best move of the opening period 11 minutes before the interval, when he split the defence from Burrow’s pass on the last. The no1 kicked diagonally to the left flank, but the ball just evaded Hall to bounce dead in goal.
Leeds’ second try came on 38 minutes and it was well-taken. Garbutt’s pass was scooped up by the impressive Joel Moon one-handed on the half-volley and he passed inside to Burrow.
His pace took him over the line and he added the two to make it 12-4.
Just 46 seconds after half-time Leeds went further in front. Rovers’ markers were penalised for not standing square and Burrow took a quick tap, weaved through the first line of defence and McGuire was in support to touch down – something he didn’t do at all last season.
Leeds received another penalty in the next set and made it count as Garbutt – who had a strong game – went over from close range off his former Brisbane club-mate Parcell’s short pass. The two conversions made it 24-4 after 45 minutes.
They didn’t press home their advantage, but were never in trouble after that.
Rhinos lacked last-tackle options last season, but were more threatening in this department.
Josh Walters came off the bench to go a metre short from Moon’s pass as Leeds kept the ball alive in exciting fashion on 55 minutes, just after Golding had stood his ground to keep opposite number Quinlan out in Rovers’ only real chance of the half.
The only other score came six minutes before the end. Sutcliffe’s kick to the corner didn’t find Hall, who it was aimed for, but Jimmy Keinhorst gathered to twist over – and Hall landed the extras to the delight of most of the 6,301 crowd.
Sutcliffe and Lilley came on in the second half with McGuire and Burrow being given a rest.
The penalty count was 8-8 (5-3 to Leeds in the first half).
Leeds Rhinos: Golding, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, McGuire, Burrow, Garbutt, Parcel, Cuthbertson, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Singleton. Subs Sutcliffe, Delaney, Keinhorst, Mullally, Walters, Baldwinson, Lilley, Hallas.
Hull KR: Qulinlan, Shaw, Heffernan, Minns, Hodgson, Abdull, Ellis, Scruton, Lunt, Clarkson, Blair, Greenwood, Addy. Subs Salter, Donaldson, Clark, Mulhern, Milton, Moran, Moss.
Referee: Jonathan Roberts (Leeds).