Hull KR 26 Leeds Rhinos 4: worrying signs and few positives as pre-season ends with Craven Park drubbing

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Eleven days out from Betfred Super League round one, there was almost nothing to be encouraged about and lots to worry over in Leeds Rhinos dismal 26-4 drubbing at Hull KR.

It was Rhinos’ strongest squad of pre-season, but they were alarmingly poor in all aspects and had scrum-half Aidan Sezer sin-binned for a high tackle, which means an anxious wait for the match review panel’s verdict.

It’s stating the obvious, but combinations need working on. The number of times Rhinos lost possession on the first play, or early in the count, was alarming.

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For example, in the opening moments Richie Myler’s pass towards left-wing Liam Tindall went over the sideline, though a touch from a Robins hand meant Leeds got the ball at the scrum. In the resulting set, a pass from Myler went into touch in more or less the same place.

Leon Ruan scored his second try in successive games for Rhinos. Picture by Allan McKenzie/ Ruan scored his second try in successive games for Rhinos. Picture by Allan McKenzie/
Leon Ruan scored his second try in successive games for Rhinos. Picture by Allan McKenzie/

Later, Tindall made a half-break from a pass by Ash Handley on the first tackle following a scrum in Rovers’ half, but Blake Austin couldn’t hold the winger’s offload.

Though Justin Sangare - who was one of Rhinos’ better players - was held up over the line late in the opening period, Leeds didn’t look like scoring before the break, despite plenty of first half territory and possession thanks to the hosts’ errors and a series of penalties.

They weren’t much more of a threat in the second period and only avoided a nilling through an excellent finish by substitute Leon Ruan 15 minutes from time.

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It was a low-quality contrast, summarised by a bizarre incident towards the end of the first half. Rhinos conceded a penalty and were then marched back 10 metres after Austin complained; Hull KR’s Tom Opacic was told to take the tap properly and then penalised himself for dissent.

Leeds received eight penalties to Hull KR’s six. The Robins had Elliot Minchella sin-binned in the first half for a dangerous tackle on Myler; early in the second a high tackle by Sezer led to a skirmish and he and Lachlan Coote were both yellow carded.

Clutching at straws, Leeds’ goal line defence in the second half was good, but they were broken through the middle several times. And Ruanb’s try capped a fine pre-season for him individually.

Major personnel changes seem unlikely for round one. Three-quarters Harry Newman and Nene Macdonald remained on the long-term casualty list, alongside prop Mikolaj Oledzki and second-row James Bentley and coach Rohan Smith has already said they won’t be available against Warrington.

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Leeds Rhinos coach Rohan Smith talks selection issues, injury update and defeat ...

James McDonnell, who limped out of last week’s game against Bradford Bulls, didn’t feature at Craven Park, despite being named in the initial squad and Derrell Olpherts, who could play centre or wing, also missed out after being ill last week.

Rhinos started with Richie Myler at full-back and David Fusitu’a - in his first game since last August - and Ash Handley in the centres.

Fusitu’a moved to the right-wing when Luis Roberts was taken off at half-time, with Rhyse Martin switching from the pack to centre; but in the first set the Tongan went off and Roberts returned.

Leeds trailed 16-0 at that stage, having conceded three first half tries. Rhinos received a penalty at the end of their first set, for a foul on kicker Austin, but Zane Tetevano lost the ball in the first tackle and Rovers went 80 metres to score in the resulting possession, Ryan Hall proving too strong at the corner for Roberts.

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Rovers extended their advantage seconds before Minchella’s return from the sin-bin, Hall going over from close-range in the set following a knock-on by Fusitu’a.

In the final seconds of the half, Leeds turned the ball over near the hosts’ line and conceded for the third time in the next set, Hull KR making easy metres before Jordan Abdull’s pass sent Opacic over. Coote booted his second goal.

The Robins missed a succession of chances before Ruan’s try, but made the result safe moments afterwards when Opacic sent Ethan Ryan over and Will Dagger converted.

Jez Litten completed the scoring with a soft try from close range three minutes before the end.

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Hull KR: Coote, Ryan, Opacic, Kenny-Dowall, Hall, Lewis, Abdull, Sue, Parcell, Kennedy, Batchelor, Linnett, Minchella. Subs King, Halton, Litten, Storton, Dagger, Hadley, Wood, Luckley, Laulu-Togaga’e.

Leeds Rhinos: Myler, Roberts, Fusitu’a, Handley, Tindall, Austin, Sezer, Lisone, Leeming, Holroyd, Tetevano, Martin, Smith. Subs Lumb, Edgell, Sinfield, O’Connor, Walters, Sangare.

Referee: Chris Kendall (Huddersfield).