Leeds Rhinos 4 Hull 30 - Hull hand round one drubbing to below par Rhinos
Once hostilities began for real, the feel good factor which Leeds Rhinos had built during the phony war of pre-season was quickly demolished.
Rhinos have become notoriously slow starters over the past four seasons and in three of them they have continued in a similar vein for most of the season.
If that is the case this time, it is going to be a long year.
Hull,having recruited strongly over the past few months, particularly with big forwards from the NRL, were always going to pose some difficult questions for Rhinos in round one, but the least Leeds hoped for was to be competitive and, if they didn’t win it, to make it close.
It was neither. In front of a 19,500 crowd, Hull were too good in all departments and the final 30-4 scoreline was embarrassing for the home team.
It was similar to their poor effort in the first game of last year – a year ago to the day – when they were thumped at Warrington Wolves, setting the tone for a dismal campaign.
After a relatively good start, Rhinos lost their way and went from 2-0 adrift at the end of the first quarter to 16-0 down by the break – and it would have been even worse but for some uncharacteristically wayward goalkicking by Marc Sneyd.
Two of Hull’s three first-half tries came after Leeds’ captain Stevie Ward had gone off and with Mikolaj Oledzki also being replaced, their lack of size and power – against big opponents – was obvious.
Ward returned in the second half, but Oledzki was off from the first quarter until midway through the last.
To add considerably to the home team’s woes, Konrad Hurrell went off for a head injury assessment and did not return, so second-rower Alex Mellor had to make his debut in the left-centre and Leeds played with 15 men for most of the match.
They were already up against it without Ava Seumanufagai, who failed to recover from a knee injury suffered in the pre-season win at Wigan Warriors two weeks earlier.
He was a big loss, leaving new signing Matt Prior too much work to do.
Rhinos didn’t help themselves. The first points in each half came through a penalty goal after a high shot by Prior.
The one after half-time was compounded by some backchat which carried Hull 10 metres further upfield and into kicking range.
The penalty count was four-two against Leeds at the break and finished 11-five. Rhinos managed to miss touch with one of those they did get.
Leeds do have players to come in, alongside Seumanufagai. Hooker Kruise Leeming will give them a boost and Dom Crosby can add size up front and specialist winger Tom Briscoe will allow Harry Newman to move into the centre where he’s more at home.
But, on this very early evidence, Rhinos have a lot of work to do in all areas – discipline, last-tackle plays and defence against big men, in the middle and out wide.
Rhinos got over Hull’s line inside four minutes, after Jamie Shaul conceded a scrum for not making a serious attempt to play-the-ball, 20 metres out.
Cameron Smith, who was one of the few Leeds players to have a decent game and Luke Gale worked the ball to Jack Walker and his superb pass found Ash Handley, but the winger was held up by Ratu Naulago.
That sparked a skirmish, but referee Ben Thaler was content simply to tell both sides to get on with the game and, on the last tackle, Rob Lui linked with Rhyse Martin, but his final ball went into touch beyond Harry Newman, who had over-run the pass.
After a knock-on by Martin in the first set, it was all Leeds until the 15th minute when the visitors received back-to-back penalties and Sneyd took the two from the second of them, for a high shot by Prior on Josh Jones in front of the posts.
Hull’s first try was a spectacular effort, five minutes later. Gale’s kick was taken by Naulago, who should have been pinned down near the visitors’ line, but got past Handley, then Hurrell and Carlos Tuimavave was on his inside shoulder to take the pass and just out-pace a desperate effort from Leeds’ winger.
Surprisingly, Sneyd missed with the conversion attempt.
Smith got under Manu Ma’u to prevent him touching down on 26 minutes and the right-side defence rode to the rescue in the same set, shoving Josh Griffin into touch close to the flag.
Hull were turning the screw though and they doubled their lead when Shaul and Jake Connor kept the ball alive in midfield and the latter drew full-back Walker before sending Naulago in.
Sneyd hit a post with his kick, but Hull received a penalty in the set from the restart and Andre Sevelio exposed the defence before putting Josh Bowden in. Sneyd landed the kick and Rhinos were 16-0 down, with seven minutes remaining in the half, having conceded three tries in 13 minutes.
They did go close to pulling some points back when Brad Dwyer had a go from acting-half, but grounded the ball short of the line, video referee Liam Moore confirming Thaler’s call of no-try.
It was a similar story at the start of the second half when Gale tried to twist over. A try then might have made it a contest, but Sneyd’s second penalty goal extended Hull’s advantage and Rhinos never looked like getting back into it.
Another penalty made the gap four points on 52 minutes and when Hull got their fifth penalty in quick succession they didn’t bother with the two.
Sneyd, Connor and Shaul moved play right and Naulago touched down for the black and whites’ fourth try.Rhinos managed to avoid a whitewash thanks to a try by Handley with 16 minutes left. Encouragingly, it was a set move off a scrum, Gale, Ward and Walker handling across the line.
Leeds then received their first penalty of the half and Handley dived over again, Gale, Lui and Walker having been involved, but video ref’ Moore overruled Thaler and said no try, for a foot in touch.
Ma’u was held up over the line in the closing stages, but Hull finished with a flourish when Shaul went through from a pass by Savelio and Sneyd landed his fifth goal.
Super League is supposed to be an elite, professional competition, but it does look two-bit at times.
There was a clear colour clash between Rhinos’ home kit and Hull’s – which may have been the reason for the Ligi Sao passing straight to Gale early on.
Leeds came out for the second half in their away strip.