Leeds Rhinos Jury: a rare 80-minute performance, where's Sam Walters, Blake Austin player of the year?
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Heavy rain, Leeds massive favourites with the bookies and the family coaching connection, what could possibly go wrong?
Well, on Friday night, not much as Leeds crushed a rapidly crumbling Hull FC. The win also nicely put to bed any lasting thoughts of who should have been retained on the playing staff from last season.
In addition, the game saw the comeback of something that frankly should have been eradicated from the game 35 years ago, never to return ... I ,of course, refer to the ‘mullet’ hairdo.
Leeds are starting to play with increased confidence as the days get longer and pitches firmer. Leigh are next up and a win will creep the Loiners under the radar, to the fringes of the play off spots.
A wet Friday evening is what we got for the visit of Hull. I was drenched before even getting in the ground and wondering how we would handle the conditions and if we could get a winning streak going.
We started scrappily, but then our dominance came through. Our attack came together and Nene Macdonald and Ash Handley were on point.
Richie Myler was certainly directing us and from the stand I could definitely see he was leading us on the field.
To get in the positions we were and the passes out wide in wet conditions showed how well things were coming together and how we worked as a team.
With a two-match winning streak behind us and other results going our way, we were into the top-six for the first time this year.
Leigh on Friday night in their own backyard won’t be an easy task. They haven’t had a bad start to the season and beat the Saints the other week so will come out confident, I’m sure. I’m going to back the Rhinos though and we are going to continue our winning run before the international break the week after.
Well, Friday was a good evening at HQ. The conditions were always going to mean that keeping hold of the ball would be difficult and, especially in the first 20 minutes, this was the case for the Rhinos.
After that we really clicked and played some very good rugby. There was a good performance from Richie Myler, who must have some of the best hands in Super League - his pass for Ash Handley’s try was sublime.
Tom Holroyd and Mikolaj Oledzki had impressive games up front and second-rower James McDonnell continued his try scoring run.
Handley was the official man of the match, but my choice was the ever-improving Blake Austin. He controlled the game, kicked well and put in a good defensive effort. Along with Cameron Smith, he must be in the running for the player of the year at this early point in the season.
It was also good to see Rhyse Martin bringing his kicking boots with him and getting back to form. We proved at last that we can play in bad weather and put the Hull KR horror show to bed. Rohan Smith has some difficult decisions over the next few weeks with a nearly fully fit squad to choose from.
The fact that we went into the half-time break ahead made a refreshing change. We have seemed at times this season to only play in the second-half. It was a good night all round with good wins for the reserves and the women as well.
Moving on to this week, the trip to Leigh will be a difficult one. They are playing decent rugby and have proved a tough team to beat. We have a chance with the fixtures over the next few weeks to climb the table and gain some real confidence.
For the first time all season, I actually enjoyed a Leeds Rhinos match from start to finish without feeling waves of stress or disappointment throughout the game.
Whilst not at their best, Leeds were the better team from the off and it was satisfying watching them put an out-of-form Hull to the sword.
It was pleasing to see the Rhinos keep Hull scoreless for 53 minutes, especially when FC had more possession and decent field position in the first 20 minutes.
It was this defensive effort that gave us the platform to score four unanswered tries and highlights the progress Rohan Smith has made in his time here. Previously, this would have been a banana skin for Leeds.
Sam Lisone is a player I want to highlight as we are finally seeing how good he can be. He put in a real tough shift on Friday night, making 84 metres and contributing 27 tackles.
If he can keep his fitness and form up, we look to have picked up a real beast of a forward. Tom Holroyd also had a good game coming off the bench, making 114 metres from 11 carries and scoring a try.
This is the strongest our pack has looked in years and it only looks to be getting stronger as many of our forwards are young and yet to reach their full potential.
I was a bit sceptical when the club extended Blake Austin’s contract last year, but he is showing his worth to the team and looks to be improving with every game.
His kicking game caused havoc in the poor weather conditions and he has already registered 10 try assists this season, a vast improvement on the seven he made last year.
Looking ahead to Leigh on Friday, this provides a chance for Leeds to put this inconsistency behind them and end their away day blues.
Our last two wins have shown signs that the team is starting to click and it would do wonders for confidence to pick up a third victory in a row.
We’ve said on the panel that in the last few weeks we have been a ‘second-half team’. Well on Friday night we certainly showed we actually can play for the full 80 minutes, albeit against a poor Hull FC side.
Everyone played well, but Ash Handley in particular deserves a special mention for his performance.
To play so well out of position gives us hope and reassurance should that situation happen again.
One of the only negatives was the injury to Aidan Sezer, who did pass his HIA, but didn’t return in the second-half.
That and Sam Walters’ exclusion. I know everyone is in form but Sam deserves his
place and if we aren’t careful we could lose him at the end of the year.
On to Leigh away this week, a game that - if we want to be challenging this year - is a must win. There are plenty of ex-Rhinos there who will want to get one over on us, but if we play like we have done in the last 120 minutes of rugby, I see no reason why we can’t beat the Leopards.
Were we back in February? It was a cold, miserable Friday evening, but a good all-round display brightened the mood.
In the wet conditions, I didn’t know what to expect with the inconsistency of our performances so far.
However, after a sloppy start making a large amount of errors, once we got into first gear the game was rather comfortable. It was a really impressive first-half from Tom Holroyd and James McDonnell, rewarding them with a try a piece and some beautiful play down our right to set up a fantastic Ash Handley try.
A really poor Hull FC side didn’t really offer much, however they took the chances they had. There were a few changes from Rohan Smith in the second-half which I felt was the right thing to do with the short turnaround.
Handley looked good at full-back, always looking dangerous on attack. We have a real chance now to get some momentum and get a result against Leigh on Friday before being back at Headingley again against Salford.