YESTERDAY’S DERBY against already-relegated Bradford Bulls was chance for Leeds Rhinos to build form and confidence ahead of the Tetley’s Challenge Cup semi-final against Warrington Wolves a week today.
They did neither. Bulls deserved their 20-14 win, for effort as much as anything else, while Rhinos need to pick themselves up after their worst performance for at least a couple of seasons.
Bulls – who had beaten Wigan in their previous game – gave it everything they’d got, which wasn’t a great deal and Leeds were just incredibly sloppy.
The ball was greasy and it was a below-strength Rhinos line-up, but even so it was hard to excuse the amount of ball they turned over, particularly early in the tackle count,
It was the fourth successive game Leeds have been level at half-time, each side scoring an unconverted try in an opening 40 which was high on errors and low on anything positive, though Bradford defended with spirit.
For elite level sport, it was very poor and there were some boos from the North Stand when the hooter sounded, though not as loud as the ones at the end.
The second half wasn’t any better in terms of quality, but it was marginally more exciting, with Bulls’ winner coming five minutes from time.
Bulls hit the front on five minutes, after Danny McGuire’s knock-on handed them possession.
Luke Gale made an initial break and then his kick to the corner was not taken by Tom Briscoe and former Rhinos winger Danny Williams touched down.
Brad Singleton was promoted into the starting line-up in place of Jamie Peacock and he made a couple of interventions which lifted Leeds.
First he put a big hit in on Jamal Fakir and then his spirited charge from a Bulls goal line drop out set the field position for Rhinos’ opening try.
Mitch Achurch stepped out of a tackle and finished well after Rob Burrow, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, McGuire and Zak Hardaker had handled. Achurch came into the team after a knee injury among a series of changes to the side which won at Salford Red Devils a week earlier.
Kallum Watkins and Ryan Hall were rested and Joel Moon (knee), Peacock (back), Carl Ablett (elbow) and Stevie Ward also sat the game out.
Ben Jones-Bishop was recalled as Hall’s stand-in, but lasted only half an hour until being hurt taking an attacking kick.
Ryan Bailey, who missed the Salford game due to concussion, was 18th man and it was the final match of Kevin Sinfield’s ban.
Chris Clarkson – who has been out with an Achilles problem – is set to play on dual-registration for Hunslet Hawks at home to Oxford tomorrow.
With both first-choice centres missing, Liam Sutcliffe stepped up from the bench to fill in alongside specialist second-row/loose-forward Josh Walters.
Brett Delaney returned to the starting side after a thigh injury. Ian Kirke was back after concussion and also recalled on the bench were Robbie Ward and Luke Briscoe, who had not been named in the initial 19.
Luke came on the right flank after Jones-Bishop went off, so Leeds had brothers on either wing, which may be unique in the club’s history.
Walters went 70 metres from a Lee Gaskell mistake soon after Achurch’s try, but Elliot Kear got back to make the try-saving tackle.
Adam Sidlow joined in and was sin-binned for interference, but Leeds couldn’t take advantage of the extra man, despite attacking throughout the 10 minutes Bulls were down to 12.
They did threaten to add to their lead on the stroke of half-time when Paul Aiton put Burrow into space, but Jay Pitts made an outstanding tackle.
There was as much excitement in the opening two minutes of the second half as there was in the entire first 40.
Bulls should have gone ahead a minute after the interval when Sidlow broke clear and found Kear in support, but Hardaker’s tackle kept Leeds’ line intact.
In the next set Burrow skipped into space in trademark fashion, but Joe Arundel forced him into a knock-on.
A Rhinos error led to Bulls’ second try, on 49 minutes. Gale kicked at Tom Briscoe, he slipped, and the ball squirmed lose; Adam Henry hacked it on, Gale kicked again and the former Leeds academy scrum-half followed through to touch down. He also added the extras
Leeds were level five minutes later, though they had luck on their side. McGuire was taken out as he chased Burrow’s kick and referee Tim Roby seemed ready to give a penalty, but then allowed the advantage.
Hardaker picked up and seemed to lose the ball forward before Delaney touched down, but the try was awarded and Hardaker tagged on the two.
With 17 minutes left Tom Briscoe ran behind a team-mate in front of the posts 30m out. Bulls opted not to go for goal, but did take the two later in the set when Jamie Jones-Buchanan was penalised for interference on James Donaldson.
Gale’s kick gave Bulls the lead for the third time, but again Leeds responded. With nine minutes left McGuire kicked to the right, the ball was tapped back and Luke Briscoe touched down his first senior try.
Again, it was questionable as McGuire seemed to have run behind Kylie Leuluai before the kick. Leeds deserved nothing from the game and got it.
They knocked on from the re-start and after Bulls forced a drop out Lee Gaskell powered through for a solo try.
Gale converted and completed the scoring with a penalty after the hooter sounded.
Embarrassing pretty much sums up the performance and the result.
Players missing was obviously a factor in this game, but Leeds need to find a huge improvement from somewhere or they will finish a season – which promised so much a couple of months ago – with nothing.
The penalty count finished 5-5 (4-2 to Leeds in the first half).
Meanwhile, Ashley Hanley – who had been named in the initial 19-man squad for the Super League game - scored two tries as Rhinos under-19s hit back from 18-6 down to beat their Bradford counterparts 19-18 in the curtain-raiser.
Ashton Golding also crossed and Jordan Lilley landed three conversions and the winning drop goal. Bulls’ try scorers were Nathan Conroy, Ross Oakes and Brandon Pickersgill, with Adam Brook converting all three.
Rhinos prop Rob Mulhern –who has made three senior appearances this year, was sent-off after a mass brawl, along with Bulls’ Brad Adams.
Leeds’ Ben Frankland and Bradford’s Stephen Copeland were sin-binned.