Leeds Rhinos 34 Bradford Bulls 10: Standing ovations for Rhinos’ Rob Burrow and a raft of fellow Leeds legends

STANDING OVATIONS greeted some of the greatest players in Leeds Rhinos’ history as they made the most of a bitter-sweet Headingley farewell.

By Peter Smith
Sunday, 12th January 2020, 7:46 pm
Updated Sunday, 12th January 2020, 7:46 pm
Rob Burrow gives the record Emerald Headingley crowd the thumb's up ahead of Jamie Jones-Buchanan's testimonial match. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe/JPIMedia
Rob Burrow gives the record Emerald Headingley crowd the thumb's up ahead of Jamie Jones-Buchanan's testimonial match. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe/JPIMedia

Rhinos beat Bradford Bulls 34-10 in Jamie Jones-Buchanan’s testimonial game, which also became a fund-raiser for another club legend, Rob Burrow, who has been diagnosed with motor neuron disease.

It was an occasion nobody wanted, but produced some lasting memories as Rhinos’ greatest era enjoyed a final swan song. Most poignantly, when an emotional Burrow struggled to keep his composure during a thank you speech on the pitch after the game, a chant of ‘One Robbie Burrow’ began among the Bulls fans and spread round the entire ground.

Remarkably, more than two years after his final competitive game, Burrow came on for the final five minutes, to the delight of a sell-out crowd.

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Rob Burrow, front centre, with his family other Jamie Jones-Buchanan testimonial squad members. PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe/JPIMedia

There can have been few louder receptions in the ground’s 130-year history and no more popular player.

As a testament to Burrow’s status in the game, the gate of 19,560 was Headingley’s biggest since the World Club Challenge tie against North Queensland Cowboys four years ago.

The receipts have yet to be confirmed, but Jones-Buchanan will receive a figure in line with previous testimonials and the remainder goes to the fund for Burrow and his family.

The game was heading towards a full house even before a gaggle of former stars from both clubs, were invited to play.

Jamie Peacock threw himself headlong into Sunday's Jamie Jones-Buchanan testimonial match between Leeds Rhinos and Bradford Bulls. PIC: Steve Riding

They were not named on the team sheet, but Jones-Buchanan was introduced with 11 minutes left, reflecting his long-term Rhinos squad number and Kevin Sinfield, Danny McGuire, Kylie Leuluai – who looked like he could do another year in Super League – and Jamie Peacock joined him in the closing stages.

So, five years late, Jones-Buchanan finally got the opportunity to put in a farewell appearance alongside Sinfield, Leuluai and Peacock.

The six Leeds legends had not shared a pitch since a Challenge Cup semi-final in 2015, a game when Jones-Buchanan suffered a major knee injury which kept him out of that year’s Wembley and Old Trafford successes and the league leaders’ shield-winning match.

Unexpectedly, Keith Senior, Ryan Bailey and Brett Delaney all appeared for the final two minutes, Senior bowing out with a trademark charge down the left flank.

Jamie Jones-Buchanan takes on the Bradford line during his testimonial. PIC: Steve Riding

Making guest appearances for Bulls, all in the last 10 minutes, were Robbie Hunter-Paul, Stuart Fielden, former Leeds player (one substitute appearance) Nathan McAvoy, Rob Parker, Matty Blythe, Wayne Godwin and Jamie Fielden.

The game itself was routine, despite some spite in the second half as Martin and Adam Cuthbertson got involved in a couple of flare-ups.

Rhinos led 22-4 at half-time before making a host of changes, including first appearances for on-loan Rhys Evans – against his parent club – and another ex-Bull Alex Mellor.

Bradford had a good spell at the start of the second half, before Leeds regained control with a couple more touchdowns.

Rhyse Martin, who did not feature on Boxing Day, was the pick for Leeds, along with stand-off Rob Lui.

Martin began the scoring, on six minutes, with a strong finish from Brad Dwyer’s pass, after he had been given an opportunity by a fine offload from Cameron Smith.

The Papua New Guinea Test captain added a second try six minutes later off a one-two with Harry Newman, who again filled in on the right-wing rather than his usual centre slot.

At that stage Rhinos looked very slick, like a team fresh from an intensive camp in perfect conditions, but it got scrappy after that as the hosts made a series of unforced errors. It took Bulls a quarter of the game to break into Rhinos’ half, but they got points on the board after 27 minutes when Ross Oakes was put in by Brandon Pickersgill who had begun the attack with a strong run from close to his own line before winning a penalty.

Stung into action, Rhinos added two more tries in the final seven minutes before the break, with Martin again heavily involved in the first.

He accepted Lui’s pass and sent Newman on a run; the winger’s pass inside took a deflection off Pickersgill and was picked up by Liam Sutcliffe who cruised over. Rhinos’ most potent attacking threat comes down their left side, but up to that point they had done all the damage on the opposite side.

In the set from the restart, Konrad Hurrell came in-field, drew a posse of defenders, but still managed to offload to Jack Walker and Dwyer – who had recovered after taking a finger in an eye earlier on – was in support to speed in.

Young outside-back Jack Broadbent replaced Hurrell at half-time and prevented a try with an early interception, but was tackled into touch and Thomas Doyle squeezed over from acting-half in the next set, Jordan Lilley converting. That came after Leeds made an error in the opening set of the second period. Lapses like that proved costly last year and need eliminating when the real business starts.

The spate of handbags soon after half-time fired up Leeds and they added a fifth try through Callum McLelland, from Lui’s pass, just before the hour. That came after a thunderous run by Mikolaj Oledzki who will be a force in Super League this year if he can do similar on a consistent basis.

McLelland started at scrum-half as Rhinos were without Luke Gale who suffered a ‘slight’ quad strain in the final session of last week’s warm-weather camp in Spain.

Richie Myler came on at half-time, at hooker, and scored the next try, pouncing after Adam Rooks lost the ball near Bradford’s line. Martin finished with five conversions.

Overall, it was a decent hit-out for Leeds, who have work to do defensively near their line, but played an enterprising brand which will, presumably, get sharper with more match practice.

As for Bulls, it is no secret they are not awash with cash so it was an outstanding gesture for them to donate their share of the gate to Burrow’s fund.

They will have enjoyed the chance to play at a good stadium in front of a big crowd and they gave a decent account of themselves.

Leeds Rhinos: Walker, Newman, L Sutcliffe, Hurrell, Handley, Lui,. McLelland, Seumanufagai, Dwyer, Prior, Ward, Martin, C Smith. Sub s Cuthbertson, Myler, Oledzki, Donaldson, Broadbent, Mellor, Evans. Guest players Jones-Buchanan, Sinfield, McGuire, Peacock, Leuluai, Burrow, Senior, Delaney, Bailey.

Bradford Bulls: Pickersgill, Johnson, Rooks, Oakes, Brown, Milnes, Lilley, England, Hallas, Crossley, Hodgson, Gallagher, Kirk. Subs Shackleton, Foggin-Johnston, Scurr, S Smith, Doyle, Foster. Guest players Hunter-Paul, S Fielden, Parker, McAvoy, Blythe, Godwin, J Fielden.

Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield).

Attendance: 19,560.