LEEDS RHINOS went top of the Super League table and made it six games without defeat this term, but their 54-6 demolition of London Broncos was otherwise entirely forgettable.
It was probably London’s last Super League visit to Headingley – for a while at least – and the destination of the two competition points were never in doubt.
The only questions were over Leeds’ final tally and if Broncos could get on the scoreboard.
Leeds couldn’t keep a clean sheet, but they still haven’t conceded more than two tries in a game this season, while in attack they scored more than the season’s previous average against London, without being at their best.
Rhinos scored before London had been in possession, were 18-0 up at the end of the first quarter and 34-0 ahead by half-time.
Leeds got sloppy with the ball in the second period, which was disappointing, but understandable given the uncompetitive nature of the game.
There were occasional points of interest. Teenager Rob Mulhern, who suffered a badly broken leg playing in the academy last year, will remember it after coming on seven minutes into the second half for his senior debut.
There was also first Headingley appearance – and a second in total – for fellow teenager Elliot Minchella.
Ryan Hall scored a first half hat-trick to take his tally for the campaign to five. He is now level with Tom Briscoe, who didn’t play, as Leeds’ leading try scorer this season.
Zak Hardaker scored a try and six goals to finish with a personal points tally of 16.
It’s disappointing to see a Super League team struggling as badly as London are, though it was probably a good job, from their point of view, Rhinos weren’t at full-strength.
Rob Burrow – in his 350th Super League appearance – was captain in place of Kevin Sinfield, who was rested.
It was the first time Sinfield has sat out a Leeds fixture he was available for since the final game of the 2009 regular season.
Burrow switched from hooker to scrum-half, alongside Danny McGuire and Paul Aiton started at No 9.
Briscoe was 18th man so Hall returned from being rested last week against Widnes Vikings and Jamie Peacock and Brett Delaney did not feature after picking up knocks in that game.
With Joel Moon sidelined due to a hamstring injury, Stevie Ward switched from the pack to centre.
Ian Kirke came in for his first games since undergoing surgery on a damaged rib in the off-season and Jamie Jones-Buchanan made his first start of the year after two appearances off the bench.
Brad Singleton was recalled at loose-forward, playing as an extra prop and Chris Clarkson was drafted in on the bench, along with the two young rookies.
Minchella, making only his second senior appearance, hadn’t been named in Rhinos’ initial squad, but was called up to replace Ryan Bailey, who was ill.
Singleton made an instant impact, scoring the opening try inside two minutes, before London had been in possession.
Hardaker’s kick-off just bounced in the field of play before going dead in goal and on the final play from the drop-out McGuire kicked through and Singleton touched down for his first Super League try.
McGuire – who had a hand in most of Leeds’ best moments – went into the game still waiting for his 250th career try and looked like he was going to get it when he shimmied through on eight minutes, but Iliess Macani made a superb try-saving tackle. The wait goes on.
At full-back, Macani was a bit like General Custer at the Little Big Horn, but the former Arsenal academy footballer looks like a decent player, quick and safe under the high ball.
His heroics on that occasion were in vain though as in the same set Ward worked the ball to Hall and he dived over for an acrobatic touchdown by the flag.
Hall had only scored two tries, both against Catalan, before last night’s game, but had doubled his tally before the end of the first quarter.
Kylie Leuluai did the groundwork with a huge hit on Nick Slyney to force a knock-on and then McGuire grubbered through and Hall read it perfectly, coming infield to pick up and go over between the posts.
That made it 18-0 after 16 minutes, but London had a touchdown ruled out on 21 when Mike McMeeken breached the line, but Hardaker got underneath to hold him up.
Honest lad, McMeeken. He stood 10 metres back patiently waiting to play the ball as video referees Ian Smith and Phil Bentham deliberated, before letting him get on with it.
On 26 Aiton produced a superb offload to Mitch Achurch and he rampaged over, doing well to get the ball down one-handed, as spotted by the video duo.
And two minutes before the interval Burrow cross kicked to the corner and Hall made a fine catch to complete his hat-trick.
It looked like Leeds would go in with a 28-0 lead, but they scored again in the next set through Jones-Bishop, following Kallum Watkins’ long-range break after McGuire and Hardaker had handled.
Hardaker made it three tries in four minutes either side of the break when he dummied over from a pass by Aiton – who played the full 80 – in Leeds’ first set of the second half.
Rhinos got sloppy with the ball after that and their hopes of keeping a clean sheet were dashed when Mason Caton -Brown stepped over on 50 minutes and Josh Drinkwater added the extras.
To their credit, London showed some pride, for example Caton-Brown’s tackle on Ablett after a clean break by Burrow.
Rhinos had a huge overlap and should still have scored, but Watkins dropped McGuire’s long pass.
He made amends by stepping over a few minutes later and then provided the final pass for Jones-Bishop’s second after Leeds went the length of the field with 12 minutes left.
Broncos’ James Greenwood had a touchdown ruled out by the video referees, for a knock-on, with six minutes left and Burrow, in his milestone game, had the final say, jinking over on the final play and adding the goal after the final hooter.
London substitute Atelea Vea was taken to hospital during the game after suffering an injury to his spleen.
Referee Chris Leatherbarrow was in charge of a Leeds game for the first time and he did a steady job.
The penalty count finished 6-3 in Leeds’ favour (2-1 to London in the first half).