Huddersfield Giants 22 Leeds Rhinos 16 - Handley injury a concern but Broadbent shines for Leeds
An injury to Ash Handley was a worry for Leeds Rhinos in their 22-16 pre-season defeat at Huddersfield Giants, but it was an encouraging performance by a makeshift side in a physical contest.
Handley - Betfred Super League’s top try scorer last year - hobbled off after being caught by a high tackle in the first half.
With a host of first-choice players missing - at least two of whom won’t be available for round one in less than two weeks’ time - that was the last thing Rhinos needed and of more concern than the result.
Rhinos trailed 22-4 after 53 minutes, but fought back really well after that, almost snatching a possible draw in the closing stages.
On the whole, Leeds would want to ask more questions of the opposition’s defence when they got in Huddersfield’s 20, but that was no surprise considering their four first-choice half-backs were all missing.
Liam Sutcliffe and Richie Myler, who have played there together in the past, filled in, but Rhinos won’t line up with this starting 13 during the season or, if they do, something will have gone wrong badly somewhere.
They were also without both centres and Handley started at full-back.
When he was hurt, Jack Broadbent took over, with Tom Briscoe switching to left-centre, alongside his brother Luke and rookie Liam Tindall, 19, coming onto the right-wing, alongside 18-year-old Corey Hall.
It will be valuable experience for all of them and Leeds’ coaching staff have been talking up the potential in their young players, though - clearly - they wouldn’t want to use so many at one go in a competitive fixture.
Disappointingly, star recruit Zane Tetevano was one of the senior players missing.
He wasn’t risked, owing to a ‘tight hamstring’, but was at the game and went on to the pitch to keep a close eye on the warm-up, which was encouraging.
With Harry Newman and - at times - Konrad Hurrell having been sidelined during pre-season, Broadbent, 20, is one of the youngsters who has had a chance to step up and impress Rhinos’ coaching staff. He had a fine game.
He made an outstanding ball-and-all tackle to wrap up Jake Wardle on the last near Leeds’ line in the first half and also provided a pass which, with some game time under his belt, Luke Briscoe would have expected to score from early on.
The youngster showed good pace to get Leeds on the scoreboard, after 25 minutes, dashing clear over 70 metres after Myler had intercepted, also made a series of key tackles to hold opponents up over the line and provided a nice off-load for Luke Briscoe to score Leeds’ second try.
Rhinos made too many mistakes - typical of a first pre-season hit-out - but for long periods they defended strongly.
Fringe man Sam Walters played the full game and did well and there was a big effort from James Donaldson, playing in the middle.
Recruit King Vuniyayawa featured in the second half and had a couple of strong runs - one of which almost produced a potentially equalising score - and Leeds put 17 years olds Morgan Gannon and Levi Edwards on for the final 10 minutes. Edwards, playing in the left-centre, really got stuck in, even earning a ticking off from referee Ben Thaler for a set-to with Giants’ big forward James Gavet - who is not far off twice his age and size.
Giants, in their first game under coach Ian Watson, look capable of challenging this season, certainly if they can keep their first 17 fit. They lost their way a little after making wholesale changes in the final 30 minutes.
Leeds made a good start, moving the ball nicely and swarming over Giants in defence, but heavy pressure came to nothing and the hosts scored on their first attack, Aidan Sezer touching down from Lee Gaskell’s kick and also adding the extras.
Broadbent and Kruise Leeming held up James Cunningham over the line on the play before Darnell McIntosh got in at the corner for an unconverted try on 33 minutes.
A superb tackle by Bodene Thompson denied the winger a second just before half-time, but then Cameron Smith’s pass was intercepted by Jack Cogger for a walk-in and Sezer’s second goal gave Giants a 16-4 interval lead.
Leeds’ mistakes and a string of penalties pinned them at their own end for the first 13 minutes of the second half and they held on until Louis Senior went over and Oliver Russell added the extras.
Before that, Jack Ashworth - by Broadbent and Dwyer - and Oliver Wilson, by Dwyer, had been held up over the line.
Luke Briscoe’s try, converted from the touchline by Rhyse Martin, got Leeds back in it and then Sutcliffe shimmied over for a well-taken score.
Leeds had chances to level after that, with Thompson being held up over the line and Vuniyayawa downed a blade of grass short in an astonishing tackle by Aidan McGowan.
Huddersfield Giants: Ashall-Bott, McGillvary, Jake Wardle, Leutele, McIntosh, Gaskell, Sezer, Gavet, Cunningham, Lawrence, Greenwood, McQueen, Jones. Subs Wood, Yates, Cogger, K Edwards, Ashworth, Michael, Wilson, Cudjoe, Russell, Senior, Trout, Rush, McGowen.
Leeds Rhinos: Handley, T Briscoe, Hall, Broadbent, L Briscoe, L Sutcliffe, Myler, Oledzki, Leeming, Donaldson, Walters, Martin, Smith. Subs Dwyer, Vuniyayawa, Thompson, Tindall, O’Connor, L Edwards, Gannon.
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield).
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