Featherstone Rovers 34 Leeds Rhinos 22: Featherstone Rovers’ experience pays off as they defeat youthful Leeds Rhinos

A YOUTHFUL Leeds Rhinos side impressed in the second half, but Featherstone Rovers were too good overall in last night’s dual-registration derby.

By Peter Smith
Saturday, 25th January 2020, 7:12 am
Leeds Rhinos' Jack Broadbent is held.
Leeds Rhinos' Jack Broadbent is held.

In their final warm-up game, Rovers fielded a strong team including former Rhinos Grand Final winner Brett Ferres making his first appearance for the club.

A year ago they had a disastrous pre-season, went on to finish fifth in the Betfred Championship and then go all the way through the play-offs to the Grand Final.

So they won’t get too carried away with a positive pre-season this time, but after losing by only two points to a strong Hull KR team last week, this performance was another indication they will be contenders again this term.

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Jarrod O'Connor is hauled down by the Rovers cover

Rovers dominated the first half, when they ran with their best-available team out and deservedly led 22-0 at the break.

The second period was much more even, as Leeds – playing together as a team for the first time – began to get to grips with each other and the opposition, though they had left themselves too much to do.

Rhinos’ side included 10 players from their first team squad, though it’s unlikely any of them will figure in next Sunday’s Betfred Super League opener.

Of those, four – Jack Broadbent, Tyler Dupree, Sam Walters and Jarrod O’Connor – played on dual-registration for Rovers five days earlier in East Yorkshire.

Leeds' Sam Walters hitches lift aboard Gareth Gale of Featherstone Rovers.

There were four part-timers who will play for Leeds’ reserves this year, which will be combined with Rovers’ second string – and the rest were from the academy.

The 34-22 final scoreline reflected well on both sides and Rhinos’ reserve team coach Chev Walker said: “The first half came as a bit of a shock to us, but it was a great hit-out and a massive learning curve for them.

“They didn’t throw the towel in, in the second half they brought the same effort as in the first but had more discipline.”

Walker added: “It’s such a young squad with no game time under their belt and it’s a positive they’re willing to work hard for each other.

Fev's Ben Blackmore is held by Jarrod O'Connor.

“It will stand them in good stead going forward.”

Rovers boss James Webster, who is also an assistant-coach at Rhinos, said: “We got plenty out of the game and Leeds will have too.

“In the first half we showed a lot of grit and determination. I was really happy with the first 40, we showed a lot of cohesion and understanding.

“As a coach you always want better and I think we’ll be a lot better in a couple of weeks and even a month’s time.”

Of Leeds, Webster said: “I thought they were outstanding.

“There’s some kids we will have a look at if they are not involved with Leeds in round one, so it was a great hit-out for both clubs.”

Rovers’ have classy halves in Louis Jouffret and Dane Chisholm and they ran the first half show, on the back of a big pack effort.

On seven minutes Chisholm found some space in the middle of the field and Craig Hall was in support to dash clear with no defenders in the same postcode. Chisholm booted the first of his three conversions.

The RFL have ordered referees to crack down on play-the-balls this season, so there has to be at least a serious attempt to touch it with a foot.

Referee Jack Smith decided Muizz Mustapha hadn’t done that near Rovers’ line on 25 minutes.

The restart is via a scrum rather than a penalty and in the set from that Rovers went all the way up the slope for Jouffret’s cut-out pass to send Josh Hardcastle in at the corner.

In the next set the hosts scored again in similar fashion, though this time Hardcastle handed Jouffret’s pass on to Gareth Gale and he touched down.

Rovers finished the first half a man down.

Winger Luke Briscoe made a superb catch from a high ball and burst downfield; he was tipped on his head by Chisholm and the stand-off was sin-binned.

It was the right call, though it looked clumsy from Chisholm rather than anything else and he showed concern for his sometime team-mate, who didn’t make a meal of it.

Rovers, though, extended their lead on the final play before the break when Alec Susino crashed between the posts from first-receiver, Craig Hall converting.

That was tough on O’Connor and Tom Holroyd who did really well to hold up Dean Parata over the line, only for Rhinos to gain possession and immediately hand it back.

Rovers’ ball movement before that, with Ferres twice involved, was top class

O’Connor went on to have a strong second half and Holroyd put a big shift in, even when the going was particularly tough.

Halves Harvey Spence and Callum McLelland were also very good for Leeds after the interval and Rhinos got off the mark on 48 minutes with a nicely-fashioned try.

Broadbent and Evans combined nicely on the left to carve out an opening for Liam Whitton, whose touchdown was converted by Spence.

Just four minutes later, McLelland almost dummied over and on the next play Spence kicked cross-field, Briscoe batted the ball back and Corey Hall – an off-season signing from Wigan – finished off. Spence’s conversion attempt bounced away off a post.

Leeds suddenly had some wind in their sails, but – as seems to happen so often – they messed up the next set, lost possession and were punished when Conor Carey capitalised on a lovely pass from Chisholm.

Leeds stuck at it and pulled six more points back when McLelland cut through for a fine solo try, which Spence improved to make it 28-16.

Leeds were on top at that stage, but Jake Sweeting scored next for the hosts off Jack Richardson’s excellent offload at the end of a long-range raid also involving Parata and Sam Ottewell. Jouffret tagged on the two.

That was five minutes from the end, but there was still time for Leeds to grab a fourth try through Iwan Stephens, created by Oliver Burton and Spence, who improved off the touchline

Featherstone Rovers: Craig Hall, Gale, Hardcastle, Worthington, Blackmore, Jouffret, Chisholm, Lockwood, Parata, Susino, Ferguson, Ferres, Bussey. Subs Albert, French, Ottewell, Richardson, Sweeting, B Wright, N Wright, Beckett, Carey.

Leeds Rhinos: Whitton, L Briscoe, Evans, Corey Hall, Broadbent, Spence, McLelland, Dupree, Whiteley, Holroyd, Mustapha, Walters, O’Connor. Subs O Burton, Gibbons, Mayhew, McConnell, Stephens, Field, Delaney, Tindall.

Referee: Jack Smith (Warrington).

Attendance: 1,810.

Eleven of last night’s Leeds team are due to back-up in a trial game at Newcastle Thunder tomorrow (3pm).

Leeds Rhinos (v Newcastle Thunder: Stephens, Tindall, Hall, Nichol, J Burton, Anderson, Mallinson, Rowley, O Burton, Hird, Atkinson, Mahew, Field. Subs Snee, TJ Barton, Whiteley, McConnell, Delaney, Dupree, Mustapha, Dyer-Dixon.