LEEDS RHINOS were made to work hard for a 24-0 win at Featherstone Rovers in their final full-scale pre-season game.
Leeds pressed relentlessly forward in the first half, which ended with them 18-0 ahead.
After the break the visitors changed a few things around, for example Tom Briscoe and Ryan Hall teaming up on the right side and gave some of their bigger names a breather
Rovers had more possession and territory, particularly in the third quarter when they challenged Leeds with some testing kicks, but also made a series of changes and the game petered out, the only score coming in the 79th minute.
Leeds will expect – and need – to be better with the ball when the real business starts, but their defence looks to be in good shape and if that’s the case, they will always have a chance.
It was Rovers’ first defeat in their fifth pre-season game. They struggled to make an impression with the ball, but tackled strongly themselves and can go into next week’s Kingstone Press Championship opener at Halifax in good heart.
Halves Anthony Thackeray and Matty Wildie have the makings of a combination and Chris Ulugia, in the centres, battled hard, along with full-back Ian Hardman.
It was a tough night for rugby; the cold conditions made handling difficult and it was murky throughout, but both full-backs coped well under high kicks and Leeds, though playing within themselves, put on some good stuff at times in the opening 40, when they were playing uphill.
Ashton Golding has done well in Rhinos’ two full-scale trial games and on this evidence deserves to begin the real business as first-choice full-back.
Aussie recruit Matt Parcell will not have played on such a cold night before, but he went well and is showing all the signs of being a quality addition, though he has yet to face Super League opposition.
Rhinos weren’t at full-strength, but were not far off at the beginning.
Joel Moon, Danny McGuire and Brad Singleton dropped out because of minor injuries picked up against Hull KR week earlier and Brett Ferres and Keith Galloway remained on the casualty list.
Adam Cuthbertson had supposedly been ruled out due to injury and wasn’t on the teamsheet, but came on as a substitute midway through the first half.
Stevie Ward was introduced off the bench for his first appearance of pre-season and got through some solid work, which was a big positive.
Such is the nature of the dual-registration system, Jack Ormondroyd and Cory Aston came into Leeds’ 23 after playing for Rovers five days earlier against Wakefield Trinity.
Ormondroyd went over for the first try after seven minutes, off Rob Burrow’s pass after strong runs by Parcell and Anthony Mullally, who didn’t do his cause any hard with a powerful display.
It was big forward Ormondroyd’s third try of pre-season, two of them for Leeds and he has shown some good signs.
Unfortunately, his evening finished soon afterwards when he was hurt making a tackle and had to be helped off.
It looked serious at first, but the word afterwards was that he had taken a knee to his back, which was painful, but not likely to be a long-term problem.
If so, that’s good news for both clubs. On his pre-season form Ormondroyd will be an asset to Rovers in the second tier, but could force his way into Rhinos contention.
Another new signing scored Rhinos’ second, Parcell scooping up the loose ball and running in unopposed from 30 metres out after 17 minutes.
Five minutes before the interval Leeds turned pressure into more points when Sutcliffe stepped through from Parcell’s pass on the last tackle and his third conversion completed the first half scoring.
Rovers didn’t have a clear try scoring opportunity in the opening period, though Frankie Mariano – who will be a major threat in the Championship – lost possession close to the line from a pass by Wildie.
At one stage Rhinos were penalised for moving off the mark in front of their own posts, then twice more for a ball steal and offside, but held out strongly and the siege was lifted when Rovers also fell foul of referee Chris Kendall for a similar offence in possession.
There were 19 penalties in total, 10 of them to Leeds. The first half count was 7-5 in the visitors’ favour.
There was little in the way of action in the second half, though Sutcliffe got over the line from acting-half – after Sam Hallas had gone close – only to knock-on in the third quarter.
Ulugia came closest to scoring for Rovers, with eight minutes left, but Leeds’ left-side scrambled well to keep him out. It looked like being a scoreless second half, but Jimmy Keinhorst sliced through for a well-taken touchdown from Ward’s pass two minutes from the end and Sutcliffe landed a touchline conversion.
Rovers were without former Leeds winger James Duckworth due to an ankle problem. Another ex-Rhinos back, Luke Briscoe, also missed out and Misi Talapapa has not played in pre-season due to a visa issue.
Rhinos coach Brian McDermott said he was pleased with the way the two pre-season games against Hull KR and Featherstone had gone, though he felt Rhinos should have scored more points in the second match.
He said: “There were some pleasing things within it. Maybe we need to sharpen up a bit in offence but I think Featherstone’s players can be proud of their defence.”
Rovers boss Jon Sharp said: “It was a really good work out we came up against a really good team playing well but we got lots out of it and I was really pleased with the second half.”
Featherstone Rovers: Hardman, Turner, Walton, Ulugia, Johnson, Thackeray, Wildie, Griffin, Carlile, Cooper, Knowles, Mariano, Tagg. Subs: Moore, Davies, Bostock, Hardcastle, Briggs, Day.
Leeds Rhinos: Golding, T Briscoe, Watkins, Keinhorst, Hall, Sutcliffe, Burrow, Garbutt, Parcell, Mullally, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Ormondroyd. Subs: Ward, Delaney, Walters, Handley, Baldwinson, Lilley, Aston, Oledzki, Jordan-Roberts, Hallas.
Referee: Chris Kendall (Huddersfield).