Leeds Rhinos proved there’s life left in their season with a 46-12 thrashing of Salford City Reds at Headingley Carnegie.
Salford, who had nothing to play for, were dire, but Leeds did a good job considering the physical and emotional bettering they had taken in their Carnegie Challenge Cup final defeat just six days earlier.
Rhinos played in fits and starts, but were never really tested. The hosts led only 16-0 at the break, but cut loose in the third quarter to add five more tries, before – perhaps understandably - easing off over the final 20 as Salford scored the final two touchdowns.
It was a memorable night for half-back/hooker Rob Burrow, who scored his 150th try for Rhinos in his 353rd appearance.
Burrow started the game at scrum-half, in one of several changes from the Wembley formation, before moving to hooker in the second quarter.
Rhinos were without two of their Cup final line-up. Ryan Bailey – their second top-tackler in the final, after Jamie Peacock – was dropped into the under-20s for the curtain-raiser and Darrell Griffin, a substitute last week, was left out.
Into the side, both on the bench, came Chris Clarkson and Weller Hauraki. Jimmy Keinhorst got his first senior start, in the centres, so Carl Ablett moved to loose-forward to replace Bailey.
Shaun Lunt got a start at hooker and Stevie Ward dropped to the bench. He came on for Lunt mid-way through the first half and went into the halves.
Ward made a good impact for Leeds, providing the final pass for a couple of tries at the start of the second period, though Rhinos were well on top when he was introduced.
Props Peacock and Kylie Leuluai were solid, well backed by Ian Kirke off the bench and Kevin Sinfield controlled things in his regular manner.
Kallum Watkins, who is from the Salford area, showed them what they are missing by scoring a couple of tries and Zak Hardaker also had a strong game, though Leeds didn’t have a lot to beat.
Salford actually made the early running, but faded out of the game once Leeds had got the first breakthrough, on 12 minutes.
In a set from a goal line drop out, Sinfield and Hardaker worked the ball to Watkins and his low pass was well taken and finished off by Ben Jones-Bishop.
Watkins had earlier come to Leeds’ rescue, getting into the right place to intercept a pass by former Rhinos Jodie Broughton after he had scorched away down the left flank.
That was their only serious opportunity until the final quarter.
On 17 minutes Peacock got a superb offload away to give Burrow a run. He was slowed down by Luke Patten’s tackle, but still managed to get the ball wide to Ryan Hall and the winger cruised over at the corner, Sinfield landing the first of his seven conversions.
Leeds’ third try, on 23, was a beauty, featuring offloads by Peacock and Ablett before Sinfield went in for his sixth touchdown of the season, off Lunt’s clever pass.
At that stage Leeds looked to have set then platform for a big first half score, but there were no more tries before half-time.
Reds couldn’t get out of their own half and Rhinos bombed a succession of chances as the game degenerated into a knockonathon, the most glaring miss coming when Burrow supplied Keinhorst following a set move off a scrum, but he couldn’t hang on.
In contrast, Leeds took the game out of Reds’ reach with three converted tries in the first seven minutes of the second period – after surviving an initial spell of pressure on their own line.
On 42 minutes, Rhinos countered from a 20-metre tap, Ward ran at the defence before slipping out a wonderful pass, which was taken by Burrow, whose pace off the mark was too much for the defence.
Three minutes after that Ward was again the provider with a short pass which found Watkins and the centre was too big and powerful to stop from a few metres out, brushing off a couple of defenders to cross for the hosts’ fifth try.
In the next set Ablett broke up the middle, Burrow was in support and he in turn found Hauraki – who has been strongly linked with an off-season move to Castleford Tigers – and he blasted over untouched from 40 metres out.
Hall was held up over the line on 54 minutes, but a couple later Hardaker went on an unstoppable run down the left channel before cutting infield and passing to Watkins, who weaved over past Patten for his second touchdown.
On the hour Ward was dragged down just short, but on the next play Sinfield’s short pass found Jones-Buchanan and he crawled over between the sticks for what turned out to be the hosts’ last touchdown.
Salford grabbed a scarcely-deserved consolation try through Patten, off Stephen Wild’s pass, with 15 minutes left and the full-back crossed again two minutes from time, Daniel Holdsworth converting both.
Referee Robert Hicks was making his return from injury and looked to be struggling, though he got through the 80 minutes.
The penalty count was 8-7 to Rhinos (5-4 to Leeds in the first half).
* RHINOS under-20s were denied second place in the Valvoline Cup when Salford City Reds salvaged a 28-28 draw with a penalty goal on the last kick of last night’s curtain-raiser.
Rhinos – who led 10-0 early on and were 22-10 down in the second half – have finished third and travel to second-placed Salford in next weekend’s play-offs.
James Duckworth (2), Luke Briscoe, Liam Sutcliffe and Colton Roche scored Rhinos’ tries and Sean Casey kicked four goals