LEEDS RHINOS’ fringe players and under-19s were taught a valuable lesson by a near full-strength Featherstone Rovers side in the clubs’ final re-season trial game.
With Kyle Briggs providing the brains and Jack Ormondroyd the brawn, Rovers were too smart and physical for Rhinos in the opening quarter, racing into an 18-0 lead.
Despite playing downhill Leeds could not get out of their own half, but once they did they played some good rugby and profited from the home side’s mistakes to twice cut the gap to just six points, before two late tries sealed a 32-16 win for Rovers.
It was a deserved victory for the Kingstone Press Championship team and the result was never in doubt, but Rhinos’ youngsters showed some encouraging signs once they got to grips with the opposition’s superior size and experience.
Rovers were missing only injured duo Steve Snitch and Colton Roche from the team likely to face Bradford Bulls at Odsal in their opening league game on Sunday.
By contrast, Ashton Golding, Ash Handley, Jordan Lilley, Jordan Baldwinson, Mitch Achurch and Josh Walters were the only first-team squad members in Rhinos’ 17.
First-team hooker Beau Falloon had been included in the Rhinos team named earlier in the week, but was ruled out after suffering a broken toe in training which will almost certainly mean he misses Thursday’s First Utility Super League opener at home to Warrington Wolves.
Youngster Ben Brady, who was originally named among the substitutes, started at no9 instead and Harvey Hallas was drafted in on the bench.
Jordan Lilley switched from half-back to hooker in the first half and may be a contender for a bench spot on Thursday following Falloon’s injury.
He was at the heart of Rhinos’ revival and was taken off in the second period, possibly to save him for this week.
There was a big difference in the quality of the teams’ kicking game. Going up hill, Kyle Briggs kicked intelligently into ankle deep sand at the top corner and enthusiastic defence kept Rhinos pinned there.
The pattern was established in the opening moments when Matty Wildie shimmied through the Leeds defence, only for a superb tackle by Walters to keep him out.
Wildie was hurt soon afterwards and left the field on a stretcher after lengthy treatment.
It took Rovers nine minutes to take the lead, Briggs going over from Anthony Thackeray’s short pass and landing the first of his four conversions.
The second try came soon after the stoppage, when Tim Spears put Danny Craven in and it was 18-0 by the end of the first quarter, Briggs having scooted over for his second after Thackeray dummied into space.
At that stage it was literally men against boys and Rhinos were looking at an embarrassing scoreline before half-time, but they gradually adjusted to the physicality of the game and finished the period the stronger.
It took Leeds 20 minutes to get into Rovers’ half.
But two tries – both off errors by the home team – cut the gap to six points at the break.
Jack Wray – a member of this year’s England academy squad – showed up well and his kick was touched down by Tommy Brierley for the opener.
Then Ashton Golding, who did well in tough circumstances, finished off fine handling involving Wray and Nyle Flynn, Lilley converting both.
Kieran Johnson’s break at the start of the second half put Rovers back on the front foot.
Golding kept him out, but Briggs and Craven combined to send Misi Taulapapa over in the same set.
It looked at that stage like Rovers would run away with the game down the infamous Post Office Road hill.
But Leeds again battled back and got within one score on the hour when Jack Norfolk skipped over from Walters’ pass.
Joe Sanderson could not add the extras, however.
It was nip and tuck for a spell after that.
But Craven’s second try, from Briggs’ astute pass, put the game beyond Leeds.
And Rovers added a sixth touchdown late on through Ian Hardman, off good work by Thackeray.
The combination between Craven, Briggs and Thackeray was impressive for Rovers, who will go into the season in buoyant mood after this performance and an encouraging pre-season.
Featherstone Rovers: Craven, Johnson, Channing, Taulapapa, Turner, Briggs, Thackeray, Griffin, Wildie, Ormondroyd, Cording, Spears, Davies. Subs Milner, Bostock, Brown, Tagg, Hardman, Cooper.
Leeds Rhinos: Golding, Handley, Norfolk, Brierley, Jones, Lilley, Wray, Baldwinson, Brady, Achurch, Walters, Flynn, Smith. Subs H Hallas, Oledzki, S Hallas, Sanderson.
Referee: George Stokes (Wigan).