A SUPER LEAGUE-ERA record crowd for a Leeds Rhinos’ player’s testimonial paid tribute to all-time great Jamie Peacock.
The visit of Bradford Bulls was Rhinos’ only full-scale warm-up ahead of their Super League opener at Hull Kingston Rovers in 13 days’ time, so it was hugely important in that respect.
Leeds could be satisfied with their 34-14 win, but it was also Jamie Peacock’s day. He received a tremendous reception both before and after the match and the magnificent attendance of 11,608 was a fitting turnout for one of the all-time greats.
That beat Leeds’ previous testimonial best, since the top-flight went full-time, of 6,636 for Francis Cummins 11 years ago.
In terms of the game itself, Rhinos were accused – with some justification – of being one-dimensional at times last year.
Coach Brian McDermott pledged in pre-season to work on his side’s skills and in their two trial games at Headingley Carnegie so far – Boxing Day against Wakefield and yesterday – they have seemed driven by a desire to entertain, or at least keep the ball moving whenever possible.
Offloading at every opportunity is a risky tactic and Super League teams would probably have taken advantage of the number of loose passes which went to ground yesterday, but it was also good to watch and effective when it worked.
Though obviously the opposition has to be factored in, pre-season – in the winter – isn’t an ideal time for tactics like that and Leeds’ attack should get sharper as time goes on.
If they continue with their current approach they will score a lot more points this term than they did last year, when their outstanding back division didn’t have enough opportunities to show what it can do.
Whether that will be at the expense of last year’s very solid defence remains to be seen. After conceding 28 points on Boxing Day they will have been disappointed to allow a Championship team to score three tries yesterday, after being nilled in the first 40, but overall they were solid.
There were numerous changes and it got scrappy in the second half after Leeds led 24-0 at the interval.
Bradford tried hard in the first half without any result, but they tested Leeds at times in the second half.
Their stand-off Lee Gaskell will win games on his own in the second tier and they way they scrambled in defence suggested it will take a good Championship team to beat them.
A mistake by Peacock led, indirectly, to Rhinos’ opening try inside three minutes.
Leeds were immediately penalised following the fumble to carry Bulls to their line, but then Gaskell’s pass – aimed at Chev Walker – was intercepted by Tom Briscoe.
He stepped inside, dashed clear and, deep into Bulls’ half, timed his pass perfectly to put the supporting Kallum Watkins over.
Rhinos had Bulls’ defence chasing shadows for a spell after that, but the Championship side did well to hang on, particularly when a Stevie Ward break was halted by an outstanding Jake Mullaney tackle.
Rhinos’ second try came on 15 minutes when they worked the blindside and Danny McGuire nipped over after a one-two with second rower Carl Ablett.
They had to wait until six minutes before the interval for their third touchdown.
This time it was Kylie Leuluai going over after Joel Moon’s pass had created a gap in the Bulls’ defence.
And then just before the interval, Ryan Shaw spilled Sinfield’s kick to concede a scrum near the Bulls line and after Brad Singleton had gone close, Rob Burrow’s pass was finished by Watkins after Purtell had been caught out defensively.
Bulls got points on the board four minutes into the second half, after a Peacock offload went to ground.
Ryan Shaw kicked on three times and was awarded the try after arriving in the in-goal area at around the same time as the ball, though it didn’t look like he got it down.
Charlie Martin, the former Castleford Tigers player on trial at Bradford, crossed moments later, but referee Richard Silverwood ruled Gaskell’s pass forward.
That was Bulls’ second disallowed touchdown, after Purtell had got the ball down in the first half, only for it to be ruled out due to a knock-on by Ryan Shaw.
The visitors did score again on 55 through Chris Ulugia, from Gaskell’s pass.
But forward Jamie Jones-Buchanan went over on 61 from Paul Aiton’s pass to end any prospect of a fightback and Rob Burrow and Kevin Sinfield combined to send Moon in 10 minutes later.
Sinfield failed to convert for the first time in six attempts and Bulls then went on to score a late consolation touchdown when Gaskell returned Burrow’s kick and also converted.
Peacock had a good game, though he seemed affected by the occasion – the knock-on with his first touch drawing an ironic laugh from the man himself.
New signing Adam Cuthbertson impressed and teenage full-back Ashton Golding, the star of pre-season so far, again looked very assured.
Referee Richard Silverwood wisely kept out of the spotlight and awarded only seven penalties, three of them to Leeds.
Leeds Rhinos: Golding, T Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, Sinfield, McGuire, Jones-Buchanan, Aiton, Peacock, S Ward, Ablett, Cuthbertson. Subs Singleton, Leuluai, Walters, Handley, Burrow, Achurch, Yates, Minchella.
Bradford Bulls: Mullaney, R Shaw, Purtell, Walker, Williams, Gaskell, Siejka, Tahraoui, O’Brien, Clough, Olbison, Mellor, Pitts. Subs Halafihi, Sidlow, Henry, Brook, E Ryan, Oakes, Ulugia, Martin, Walshaw, Kirk, Davies.
Referee: Richard Silverwood.