ENGLAND WINGER Tom Briscoe scored a hat-trick of tries on his debut as Leeds Rhinos extended their Super League round one winning sequence to 14 matches with a fine 34-6 victory at Hull KR.
Briscoe was preferred to Ben Jones-Bishop on the right-wing and became only the eighth player to score three tries in his first appearance for Leeds.
The triple came in succession between the 48th and 60th minutes as Leeds hit their stride to blow Rovers away following a scrappy opening period.
Rhinos got off to the perfect start, but Rovers knuckled down and battled their way back into the game and the 6-6 stalemate at half-time was a fair reflection.
Leeds, though, were a different class in the second half and Rovers’ new-look side had no answer.
In the end Rhinos won what looked like being a tight game with plenty to spare and they could even afford four successive missed conversion attempts by Kevin Sinfield.
Rhinos got off to a flier with a try after three minutes. Joel Moon – not the obvious man for the job, drilled in a kick on the last after Zak Hardaker, Sinfield and Danny McGuire had handled.
Greg Eden, Rovers’ full-back, fumbled under pressure for the chasing Ryan Hall and Moon was presented with a simple touchdown.
Sinfield landed a magnificent touchline conversion and Leeds were almost in a moment later when Hardaker kicked over the line, but Hall dropped it. That probably prevented a riot, as referee Richard Silverwood had missed a knock-on by Rob Burrow at acting-half.
Burrow started at hooker, with Paul Aiton making his debut off the bench. He came on at the start of the second half and was replaced by Burrow on 66.
Jones-Bishop warmed up as 18th man and there was no place for Stevie Ward, though he is now available after recovering from the dislocated shoulder suffered at Hull KR last April.
Brad Singleton was in the 13 at prop, so Kylie Leuluai – who was excellent in the second half – and Ryan Bailey had to settle for a place among the substitutes.
All eight of Hull KR’s off-season signings were in the 17. One of them – Ben Cockayne, who has returned to East Yorkshire from Wakefield Trinity Wildcats – let Rhinos off the hook when he spilled Kris Welham’s pass five metres out with the defence nowhere.
That was typical of the opening quarter, which was marred by a series of handling errors, soft mistakes and penalties.
On 20 Burrow’s pass to Jamie Peacock was slightly forward. Rovers received a penalty in the subsequent set and on the last tackle another debutant, half-back Kris Keating’s step fooled the defence and he darted over, with Craig Hall’s kick levelling the scores. Moon knocked on just short soon afterwards, but at the other end it took a superb ball and all tackle by Ryan Hall to prevent namesake Craig going over.
That was it as far as goalline action was concerned.
The game ebbed and flowed between the two 20-metre lines, but neither side could carve out any clear chances.
Kallum Watkins had a quiet first half, but made a big impact in the second, initially going from try saver one moment to creator the next.
On 48 Singleton was penalised for a dangerous tackle on Josh Hodgson and Eden looked as though he has found a way over in the resulting set, but Watkins and Hardaker combined to keep him out.
McGuire cleared his line with a smart run, Briscoe and Hall both carried the ball strongly and then Hardaker, Sinfield and Brett Delaney worked on opening for Watkins, who blasted down the right and provided a well timed pass, which was finished by Briscoe.
Soon afterwards McGuire went 60 metres on a kick return from his own line. David Hodgson did remarkably well to chase back and make the tackle and referee Silverwood was content to allow Adam Walker to lie on until the rest of the defence got back. Sinfield then spotted Briscoe unmarked in space, but the kick took a wicked bounce away from the winger. The former Hull man wasn’t to be denied a few minutes later, on 56.
Hardaker then forced a drop out with a terrific chase to trap Eden in goal from McGuire’s high kick.
Then crisp handling along the line by Aiton, McGuire and Sinfield found Hardaker and his pass created an overlap, finding Watkins, who put Briscoe over again.
The attack which led to Briscoe’s third try began in bizarre fashion when Travis Burns chipped over the top, ran through, took a swing at the ball and missed.
Hardaker gathered to counter-attack and it looked like Watkins would cross, only for Welham to pull off a sensational tackle.
But Watkins played the ball to McGuire who gave him it back and the centre fed his winger, who stepped forward one pace to complete a genuine hat-trick, three successive tries. One of the problems of having prolific wingers is that tries tend to be scored out wide.
Sinfield was off target from the same spot for a third time, so Rovers were still in it at 18-6.
Not for long though. Four minutes later McGuire snapped up a loose pass inside his own half and motored 60 metres unopposed to cross close to the posts – though, remarkably, Sinfield’s kick bounced away off an upright.
Rovers’ spirit had been broken though and the captain got his eye in by converting Leeds’ final two touchdowns.
On 68 Burrow opened the defence with a trademark scamper and Hardaker was in support to cross.
Then with six to go Sinfield and Hardaker created an overlap and Watkins crossed, after deciding not to lay on a fourth for his winger.
The right flank saw little ball in the opening period.
But the second 40 was an illustration of what they are capable of when it does come their way.
The penalty count finished 8-5 in the hosts’ favour. Rovers had also edged it – 5-4 – in the first half.
Hull KR: Eden, D Hodgson, Hall, Welham, Cockayne, Burns, Keating, Weyman, J Hodgson, Poore, Langley, Larroyer, Costigan. Subs (all used): A Walker, J Walker, Horne, Green.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker, Briscoe, Watkins, Hall, Moon, McGuire, Sinfield, Singleton, Burrow, Peacock, Delaney, Ablett, Clarkson. Subs (all used): Leuluai, Aiton, Bailey, Sutcliffe.
Referee: Richard Silverwood.