TWO-TRY talisman Rob Burrow’s return after three months on the casualty list inspired Leeds Rhinos to a precious 30-6 home win over Hull KR last night.
Burrow scored the opening try – after almost an hour’s play – and blew a previously dour game wide open.
Leeds’ team sheet suggested the plan may have been to run Rovers’ big men around and tire them out and if that was the case, it worked – eventually.
After 59 tight and largely uneventful minutes, there were six tries – five of them to Leeds – scored in the final 21 minutes, Burrow grabbing the first and last.
Burrow had missed 10 games due to the fractured collarbone suffered in the Challenge Cup win over St Helens in April.
He came off the bench after 24 minutes, slotting in at hooker with Paul Aiton switching into the back-row and his comeback has given Rhinos a big lift.
Games played in warm conditions often become touch-and-pass, but this one was very much the exception to the rule, with defences on top for the first three-quarters as both sides made a flurry of handling errors.
It was 0-0 at the break, only Leeds’ second scoreless first half in the summer era, the other occasion being a high-quality game at Hull’s KC Stadium in 2004.
For a while it looked as if the deadlock would never be broken, but Burrow’s touchdown changed Leeds’ outlook and they finally cut loose to emerge deserved and comfortable victors – though the scoreline was tough on Rovers, who created few chances, but defended well for the most part.
The first incident of note – and one of very few in the opening half – was a bizarre one, after just four minutes, when Ben Jones-Bishop was taken out by Rhys Lovegrove under Kris Keating’s high kick.
Both players hit the deck and needed lengthy treatment. The Leeds man recovered sufficiently to play on, but only for 14 minutes before going off. Lovegrove had to leave the field immediately and the penalty went to Leeds.
Liam Sutcliffe came off the bench in place off Jones-Bishop as a straight swap, slotting in at full-back.
Sutcliffe is becoming one of the most versatile players in Rhinos’ squad, having started games in the right-centre, both half-back positions and loose-forward already this year.
He had dropped to the bench – from stand-off in the previous game – when Kevin Sinfield was cleared to return from a two-game lay-off due to a bad back.
Carl Ablett and Mitch Achurch were also back in the side after missing the defeat at Wakefield a week earlier.
Elliot Minchella and Robbie Ward dropped out from the team beaten by Wakefield, along with front-rowers Brad Singleton and Ryan Bailey, who were both fit, but not selected.
With Ian Kirke and Kylie Leuluai still on the casualty list (alongside second-rowers Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Chris Clarkson), Jamie Peacock was the lone experienced prop in Rhinos’ 17.
Brett Delaney – who began his Leeds career as a centre – switched from second-row to prop and teenager Robbie Mulhern retained his place on the bench.
When Peacock was spelled, mid-way through the first half, Achurch came on in the front-row and Leeds were without any specialist senior props.
Rhinos had the first attacking opportunity when Kallum Watkins broke from a scrum deep in Leeds territory, but Tom Briscoe, who was in support, couldn’t get past his marker and the move ended with Ryan Hall just failing to take Sinfield’s cross kick.
On 11 Liam Salter got over the Rhinos’ line on the final tackle, from Keating’s pass, but Jones-Bishop made a terrific tackle to prevent the winger getting the ball down.
Leeds had another opportunity when Danny McGuire – who had a good game – went into space from Sinfield’s pass. Rhinos then went right and Watkins’ pass would probably have put Briscoe in, but Craig Hall knocked it into touch.
Referee Phil Bentham, however, awarded the scrum to the visitors.
Ablett was held up over the line by Travis Burns as Leeds continued to apply the pressure,
The deadlock was almost broken on the stroke of half-time when Watkins worked a one-two with Burrow, whose pass put Briscoe over – but Bentham – correctly – ruled the centre’s pass to his No 7 had been forward.
Five minutes into the second half some neat passing between Sinfield, Peacock, McGuire and Joel Moon opened up a gap on the left-flank, but Hall could not take the final ball.
Hall then had to make a key tackle on Omari Caro, who looked like bursting clear after Kris Welham had pounced on an error by Ablett.
Leeds turned down an – admittedly difficult – chance to kick for goal on 59 minutes and the resulting set finally led to the opening try.
Josh Walters – who again impressed in Leeds’ pack, went close and Burrow picked up to dart over from acting-half.
In this game tries were like buses, wait ages for one and then six come at once.
Three minutes after Burrow’s opener, Sinfield’s pass was very well taken by Briscoe, who sent Watkins on a run and he turned the ball inside to put Sutcliffe over.
Hall went clear from the re-start and though his pass inside didn’t find Burrow in support, Leeds scored a third try at the end of the set when Ablett managed to touch down from McGuire’s grubber.
Sinfield’s third conversion made it 18-6, but Rovers got the ball back from a short re-start and Josh Hodgson’s show-and-go took him over for a try which Burns improved.
With eight minutes left Rovers’ Neville Costigan forced his way over the line, but was held-up by fellow Papua New Guinean Aiton.
Rovers pushed hard, but the siege was lifted when Sinfield broke up the middle and found McGuire with a sensational reverse pass, the No 6 crossing between the posts.
In the next set Burrow went up the middle with McGuire in support, threw a dummy and shot between the posts for a try which brought the house down, Sinfield’s five conversions completing the scoring. The penalty count finished 4-1 in Leeds’ favour. Rovers’ only penalty came six minutes before the end.
Meanwhile, Rhinos under-19s will be part of an experiment to trial two referees – the system used in Australia’s NRL – when they face Hull KR at Stanningley today (1pm).
Super League officials Ben Thaler and Robert Hicks will be in charge.