Another step backwards: Leeds Rhinos kicked to pieces in 20-12 loss at Hull KR

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Which Leeds Rhinos would turn up at Hull KR? Unfortunately, Dr Jekyll took the night off and Mr Hide went away beaten 20-12.

A pre-match rejig and early injury in the backs didn’t help, but Leeds - six days after ending Catalans Dragons’ unbeaten run - made a hash of handling awful conditions and the Robins, half-back Jordan Abdull in particular, took full advantage.

Leeds had been expected to field their strongest 17 for a couple of seasons, but Richie Myler was granted paternity leave the day before the game and Nene Macdonald missed out because of a calf muscle injury.

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Luke Hooley came in for his Rhinos - and Betfred Super League - debut at full-back and Derrell Olpherts, a substitute in last week’s win over Catalans Dragons, started on the left-wing.

Rhinos debutant Luke Hooley is stopped by Frankie Halton. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.Rhinos debutant Luke Hooley is stopped by Frankie Halton. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.
Rhinos debutant Luke Hooley is stopped by Frankie Halton. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

With a swirling wind and rain driving into their Leeds’ faces in the opening period, it was always going to be a tough night for those two and so it proved as Leeds turned around 14-0 behind, having not had a set in the hosts’ 20.

It could have been even more, but Kane Linnett was held up over Rhinos’ line at 0-0 and James Batchelor also had a touchdown ruled out late on, both after going to video referee Ben Thaler.

The positive was things surely couldn’t get any worse in the second-half. It took 18 seconds (eighteen!) for that assumption to unravel.

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Having gone further behind, Leeds showed some fight, but didn’t use the conditions the way Hull KR had and never looked like getting back into the contest, despite a try early enough to have made it interesting.

Rhinos failed to handle the conditions on a wet night at Craven Park. Picture by Bruce RollinsonRhinos failed to handle the conditions on a wet night at Craven Park. Picture by Bruce Rollinson
Rhinos failed to handle the conditions on a wet night at Craven Park. Picture by Bruce Rollinson
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This was another step backwards after a good win and unless and until Rhinos can find some consistency they are going to be a mid-table team at best. Occasional wins against good teams aren’t enough.

The home fans enjoyed his discomfort, but from a Rhinos perspective it was impossible not to sympathise with former Batley man Hooley who had played just one comeback game following a long injury layoff before his unexpected call up.

He spilled Abdull’s towering kick midway through the first-half and the next time Leeds had possession they were 14-0 behind with eight minutes remaining before the break.

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Luis Roberts is tackled. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.Luis Roberts is tackled. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.
Luis Roberts is tackled. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

The tale of woe began when Olpherts, not at fault, conceded a drop out at the end of the set following the knock-on and Lachlan Coote took the two after the kick failed to go 10 metres.

The Robins scored again in the next set. It was a poor try for Rhinos to concede; Olpherts let Abdull’s high kick bounce, which it did kindly to Louis Senior whose touchdown was improved by Coote.

Hull KR led 8-0 without having done much, other than Abdull’s kicks. Another one was spilled by Olpherts, Abdull then slid through a low kick which Hooley couldn’t make safe and Sauaso Sue pounced to score.

Olpherts knocked on yet another Abdull kick after a mix-up with Hooley, but redeemed himself when the number seven put boot to ball and Senior offloaded inside for Batchelor to cross.

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Referee Marcus Griffiths indicated a try, but video official Thaler spotted the winger had a foot in touch in Olpherts’ tackle before he let the ball go.

Arguably the evening’s most catastrophic blunder came when Leeds dithered from Abdull’s second-half kick-off, Sue grabbed the ball and though he was tackled just short, by Sam Lisone, Linnett nipped over for an unconverted try.

Rhinos didn’t have a set in Rovers’ 20 until the 45th minute and they scored from it. Aidan Sezer slid a kick behind Rovers’ line and Luis Roberts ran through to touch down, Rhyse Martin converting from the touchline.

Leeds might have been getting a hold in the game, but knock-ons by Hooley at both ends of the field, the second a dubious call, were bookended by a penalty and set restart, then another penalty was goaled by Coote to restore the 14-point gap.

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Rhinos scored again with six minutes left when James McDonnell touched down from another Sezer kick and Martin added the extras, but the eight-point gap flattered them somewhat.

With Mikolaj Oledzki back and the props fit and available, Sam Walters dropped out of the 17, which seemed like a tough call, so Rhinos could carry a three-quarter, Roberts, on the bench.

Roberts found himself in the action after just 15 minutes when winger David Fusitu’a was hurt as Leeds defended inside their 20. He hobbled off, clearly in pain, which is a blow, particularly with Ash Handley still on the casualty list.

The penalty count was six-four in Rovers’ favour.

Hull KR: Coote, Senior, Wood, Batchelor, Hall, Lewis, Abdull, Kennedy, Parcell, King, Halton, Linnett, Minchella. Subs Sue, Litten, Hadley, Luckley.

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Leeds Rhinos: Hooley, Fusitu’a, Newman, Martin, Olpherts, Austin, Sezer, Holroyd, O’Connor, Tetevano, McDonnell, Bentley, Smith. Subs Oledzki, Roberts, Lisone, Sangare.

Referee: Marcus Griffiths (Widnes).