RECALLED WINGER Ben Jones-Bishop made a point with a brace of tries as Leeds Rhinos blew Widnes Vikings away at Headingley Carnegie.
In a clash of unbeaten teams, Widnes were competitive in the first half, but could not cope when Rhinos stepped up a gear in the second period.
Leeds scored some spectacular tries after half-time, but it was their hard work in the opening 40 – when they forced Widnes into long stints in defence – which laid the platform.
Rhinos have yet to concede more than two tries in any of their five games this year and they produced another strong defensive effort.
Though Leeds had most of the play, Widnes did create spells of pressure – forcing four goal line drop outs – but the hosts defended their line with a real urgency and desire.
Rhinos led only 10-0 at half-time after doing most of the pressing in the opening 40, without being able to take a firm grip on the game.
Widnes were well-organised and willing and they certainly didn’t travel to Headingley with any fear, despite eight successive defeats in meetings with Leeds.
Within two converted tries of the lead at the break – and the elements in their favour for the final 40 – Widnes might have fancied it in the second period, but Leeds broke their spirit and they could have won by more.
It was nip and tuck early on, but Rhinos hit the front after 17 through Jones-Bishop’s diving finish after nice handling across the line by Danny McGuire, Jamie Peacock, Kevin Sinfield, Zak Hardaker and Kallum Watkins, who supplied the final pass.
Jones-Bishop came in for his first game of the year in place of Ryan Hall, which allowed Tom Briscoe to switch from the right flank to his preferred position on the left.
That was Leeds’ most significant change, but Rob Burrow returned to the starting line-up at hooker – swapping places with the benched Paul Aiton. Both of them had a big game, as did Ryan Bailey, who was recalled among the substitutes, in place of Brad Singleton.
Briscoe began with Joel Moon as his centre, but that lasted only seven minutes. The Aussie worked an opening for his winger, who knocked on the pass, but was hurt in the process and went off to be replaced by Jamie Jones-Buchanan.
He went into the back-row and Carl Ablett – making his 200th appearance for Leeds –moved into the centre, leaving Leeds down to 16 fit players.
Kylie Leuluai also took a knock in the first quarter and went straight into the changing room after being replaced, though he was able to return before the break.
One player who didn’t come out for the second half was prop Jamie Peacock who aggravated a calf problem which he picked up in training. That disruption wasn’t what Leeds would have wanted early on, but they coped well to put Widnes under sustained pressure.
Jones-Bishop went in again on 24 from Hardaker’s pass after McGuire, Sinfield and Stevie Ward had handled, Sinfield this time landing a smart conversion to make it 10-0.
Leeds’ first two tries were both in sets following penalties, the first for a high tackle on Burrow and the second interference as Hardaker cleared Leeds’ Rhinos line.
Widnes defended strongly for most of the first half and they weren’t afraid to chance their arm on their rare attacking opportunities, with Joe Mellor and Kevin Brown trying some trickery in midfield.
They only managed one spell of pressure though, just before the interval, thanks to a penalty, successive goal line drop out and another penalty.
It looked like that would pay off when dangerman Rhys Hanbury sliced through, but he passed the ball forward close to the line as Watkins and Hardaker closed him down and Chris Dean’s touchdown was ruled out..
Rhinos put Widnes winger Paddy Flynn under pressure with kicks and he struggled to cope, dropping three of them.
Twice the ball appeared to go forward – on the second occasion, from a drop out it clearly did – but referee Robert Hicks allowed play to continue, ruling no knock-on.
Having had the strong wind at their backs in the first period Leeds might have expected to be further in front at the break, but they increased their lead before Widnes had been in possession after half-time.
Rhinos got the ball back from their own kick-off and then forced a goal line drop out and on the final play of the subsequent set McGuire’s pass found Watkins and the centre put on some footwork to create a gap which didn’t seem to be there.
Widnes appealed without success for an obstruction and Sinfield nailed the conversion to make it 16-0.
Rhinos’ fourth try, which effectively put the game beyond Widnes, came on 51 minutes and was a collector’s item. Brett Delaney – who was outstanding throughout – took an inside pass and hit a gap, with Bailey in support.
The prop took the pass about 20 metres out and rampaged over for his first touchdown since last May, celebrating by hoofing the ball into the South Stand.
Sinfield converted and then crossed himself moments later. Watkins’ pass sent Jones-Bishop haring away before he turned the ball inside for the skipper to cross, though he couldn’t add the extras.
Leeds went the length of the field for their sixth try, on the hour, beginning the set on their own line.
It ended with Burrow supplying Sinfield, who fed McGuire, with the hooker/half-back in support and he was too quick for the defence. Sinfield’s fourth goal made it 32-0.
Jones-Buchanan, in his second game back from a long injury lay-off, turned in a strong stint and he capped it with a deserved try 13 minutes from time, when he ran through a now demoralised defence and on to McGuire’s kick.
Sinfield’s was taken off immediately after kicking his fifth goal, which left him on 3,498 points for Leeds.
From the time Bailey crossed the challenge for Leeds was to keep Widnes scoreless, but they didn’t manage it – Hanbury scoring from Brown’s pass with six minutes left.
Mitch Achurch came off the bench in the second half, just before Bailey’s try, to ironic applause, given he was an unused substitute the week before at Huddersfield.
Referee Hicks, despite Rhinos’ total domination after half-time, managed to award Widnes all three of the second half penalties, after the count had been4-3 in Leeds’ favour in the first half.