LAST YEAR’S treble winners Leeds Rhinos began their fight against relegation with a 62-6 victory at Featherstone Rovers in the opening round of the First Utility Qualifiers.
It was Rhinos’ sixth success from seven games and a perfect start to their fight against relegation. Only an injury to the luckless Brett Delaney, who suffered a suspected dislocated kneecap, took the gloss off Rhinos’ biggest win for more than a year.
Here are five talking points from the game.
1: The scoreline doesn’t reflect how well Rovers played in the first half. Inevitably, Rhinos’ superior fitness and skill told in the second period, when they scored 44 unanswered points, but Featherstone matched them for effort and spirit and could have been closer than 18-6 down at the break.
2: Leeds can’t afford to get complacent. They have lost to all three of the Super League teams they will face over the next six matches, including Friday’s unpredictable visitors Hull KR, but if they keep most of their squad fit and maintain their current rate of improvement they should comfortably finish in the top-three and secure an automatic return to the elite competition. Based on present form, Rhinos look like a top-four Super League side.
3: Once again, Kallum Watkins produced Leeds’ most eye-catching performance. He has been in good form for two months. On his day he is too strong, fast and skilful for the best Super League defences, so his four touchdowns were no shame on Rovers’ wide men.
4: Liam Sutcliffe was being, unfairly, written off earlier in the campaign, but has been revitalised by a move to full-back. He is still coming to terms with what is a specialist position, but has all the attributes and is also improving as a goal kicker. His 26 points – from two tries, eight conversions and a penalty – was a real confidence booster.
5: It turned into a painful afternoon on the field for Rovers, but was a successful one off it. Their best crowd of the summer era – 6,671 – will have provided a much-needed financial injection, particularly coming after a 5,500 attendance for Bradford Bulls’ visit in the previous home game. The Qualifiers fixtures have fallen well for Rovers, with well-supported duo Hull KR and Leigh Centurions also set to visit Big Fellas Stadium.