A 62-10 win over London Broncos “ticked the boxes” for Leeds Rhinos coach Brian McDermott, but he admitted he won’t be reading too much into the scoreline.
Rhinos scored 12 tries, three of them by Ben Jones-Bishop, who had to sit out the first half on the bench with Ryan Hall and Tom Briscoe taking the starting wing spots.
The hosts, in their only full-scale trial game, pushed forward relentlessly against a young London side who were totally out-gunned.
Rhinos were scratchy on the first half, but much better after the break, when they scored 44 points, which is good going in any game.
“We weren’t very composed in the first half, though we scored some decent, speedy, athletic tries,” McDermott reflected.
“In the second half we looked a bit more composed and did what we wanted to do.
“There’s a fitness and a physicality issue you want to get into a pre-season friendly, but you also want to see some things that you’ve been working on in the off-season.
“I thought we got both in the second half and we opened up a bit. It ticked the boxes, but London are clearly struggling with the bodies they’ve got.
“I am sure they’ll recruit and end up with a more balanced squad. The danger is we read too much into that and start thinking we are all this or all that, whereas in fact we’ve got to keep things in context.”
Danny McGuire had already been held up over the line when he bagged the opening try, from Kallum Watkins’s pass close to the line after Kevin Sinfield had also handled.
In the next set Watkins made a break from close to his own line and offloaded to Sinfield, he found Zak Hardaker, Joel Moon was next in line and his pass was finished powerfully by Carl Ablett.
On 16 minutes Sinfield set McGuire up, he threw a dummy and ghosted into space and Moon was on his shoulder to cross.
London got on the board in spectacular fashion after 25 when Sean Morris intercepted a Sinfield pass almost on Broncos’ line, swept the full-length and just evaded Hardaker’s ankle-tap for a brilliant try.
Morris was named among the substitutes, but called into the starting line-up after winger James Duckworth – on loan from Leeds – pulled out following the warm-up with a hamstring injury.
Mike Bishay converted and in the next set London almost scored again, through James Cunningham’s clever break, so having been under the pump for 25 minutes the visitors might have been level.
As it was they went in only 18-6 down, despite having got into the Leeds half just the twice.
Leeds’s fourth try came just before the break when Briscoe marked his first appearance with a touchdown, from Watkins’s pass.
And they were in again just a minute after the interval, with the team try of the night. McGuire and Hardaker handled before the ball reached Watkins. He took Leeds forward with a surging run and then offloaded cleverly to McGuire; he found Sinfield and Chris Clarkson was on hand to go over for his third try in as many pre-season games.
Sinfield’s conversion made it 24-6, but he was off target moments later after a thrilling long-range score by Jones-Bishop.
He was brought on for the second half, after Briscoe was given a breather and showed great speed and a nice step to go the length of the field after a London error on the final tackle.
Leeds tried a bag of tricks on the final tackle and a grubber from McGuire produced a diving finish from Hall, plus a brilliant touchline conversion from Sinfield.
He added the extras to Watkins’s second try – in the next set, from Jones-Bishop’s break and pass – before being given a rest, which allowed Hardaker to go to stand-off.
Burrow took over the kicking and landed three conversions from four attempts, the first after his pass had put Clarkson over on the hour.
Moon scored his second after Burrow’s kick was batted back, then Jones-Bishop completed his hat-trick with successive touchdowns, the first from close range off Watkins’s pass, before a lovely 70-metre touchdown.
Jones-Bishop was at full-back at that stage, with Hardaker as stand-off and Hall and Briscoe on the wings.
He took Burrow’s pass, weaved around his marker and then stood the full-back up before crossing between the posts.
London at least had the consolation of scoring the final try, through Tongan World Cup star Nesiasi Mataitonga.
A word for Rhinos’ groundstaff. The pitch was in perfect condition despite the rain and the sprinklers were actually on just a few hours before kick-off and again afterwards.
The choice of Ben Thaler as referee suggested someone at Red Hall has a sense of humour.
Thaler had sent Bailey off twice in the past and sin-binned him three times, out of the five yellow cards he has received in his career.
He awarded just four penalties, all to Rhinos.
The game was overshadowed by an injury before kick-off. Jamie Jones-Buchanan, who had been due to start at loose-forward, tore a calf muscle in the final training session and will miss the start of the season.
He is the third forward definitely ruled out of the trip to Hull KR in 15 days’ time, alongside Andy Yates (Achilles) and Ian Kirke (ribs).
McDermott said long-term casualty Stevie Ward is close to a return to playing action, but Mitch Achurch was “in pain” after twisting a knee last night.
The coach said the injuries in the forwards are making him “a bit twitchy” and added: “We can’t afford any more in the next couple of weeks.”
LEEDS RHINOS: Hardaker, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, McGuire, Sinfield, Peacock, Burrow, Bailey, Delaney, Ablett, Singleton. Subs (all used): Aiton, Leuluai, Achurch, Jones-Bishop, Clarkson, Sutcliffe.
LONDON BRONCOS: Mataitonga, Burnett, Lovell, Minns, Morris, Woodburn-Hall, Bishay, Greenwood, Moore, Krasniqi, McMeeken, Cook, Foster. Subs (all used): Dollapi, Griffin, Cunningham, Everett, Wicks, Wallace..
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield).