LEEDS RHINOS cruised into tomorrow’s Ladbrokes Challenge Cup semi-final draw with a 58-0 win over Featherstone Rovers in a totally one-sided tie at Headingley.
Leeds scored 10 tries in all, nine of them converted by Liam Sutcliffe, having led 22-0 at the break.
Effectively the job was done inside the opening 15 minutes when they scored three converted touchdowns.
The visitors didn’t recover after mistakes by possibly their two best players this year – Josh Hardcastle and John Davies – contributed to Rhinos’ opening two touchdowns.
They could have thrown the towel in at the end of the first quarter, but scrambled well and tried to play rugby in attack, though nothing came off against a mean Leeds defence and errors proved costly.
Rovers were reduced to 12 men for a spell in the second half when James Lockwood was sin-binned for dangerous contact on Adam Cuthbertson.
That put added pressure on a tiring team and Leeds scored three tries while Lockwood was off the field.
The part-time Kingstone Press Championship side looked very tired after the interval and didn’t mount a serious attack until the final five minutes.
Despite the prospect of a home derby against Betfred Super League leaders Castleford Tigers next Friday, Rhinos coach Brian McDermott paid Rovers full respect by fielding his strongest available side.
Rob Burrow missed out for a second successive game due to a shoulder problem and Jimmy Keinhorst and Brett Delaney remained on the long-term casualty list.
Ashton Golding was not risked, due to the hamstring problem that kept him out of two games before the win at Wakefield a week ago.
So Sutcliffe reverted to full-back and Ash Handley returned to the side. He was named in the centres, but played on the left-wing, outside Ryan Hall, who made a good job of his unfamiliar role.
Rhinos had to reshuffle for a spell when Matt Parcell suffered a facial injury in the first half, in friendly fire from Mitch Garbutt as he tried to tackle Darrell Griffin.
Cuthbertson slotted in at hooker while Parcell was getting patched up.
Jack Walker, the 17-year-old full-back or half, came in on the bench, despite not being in the 19-man squad.
He came on for the last 21 minutes when Danny McGuire was given a rest.
Jordan Baldwinson was 18th man, denying him the opportunity to play against the team he played for – on dual-registration – five days earlier.
Rovers coach Jon Sharp took the opposite approach, recalling Cory Aston – on loan from Leeds – after two games out of the team.
The half-back has a decent game in the circumstance and was involved in Rovers’ only first half chance. He sliced through and supplied Davies.
The big second-rower forced his way to the line, but offloaded and Lockwood could not take the pass.
Rovers were without ex-Leeds wingers James Duckworth and Luke Briscoe due to injury, as well as the dual-registered Baldwinson and Jack Ormondroyd. Chris Ulugia, Andy Bostock and Scott Turner were also on the casualty list.
Rovers made 24 tackles before Leeds’ first, getting off to the worst possible start when Hardcastle dropped the kick-off. The centre has been a revelation since joining Rovers from Featherstone Lions in the off-season, but a Challenge Cup quarter-final at Headingley was the biggest game of his professional career so far and nerves obviously were a factor.
He recovered and almost scored twice late on.
Leeds forced a goal line drop out in the subsequent set and though Fev cleverly got the ball back from a short kick, Kyran Johnson knocked-on.
All the pressure paid off when Stevie Ward finished strongly from Parcell’s pass after just three minutes.
Brett Ferres broke his try duck for the season 10 minutes later and he won’t score an easier one in his career.
Watkins was pulled down just short and McGuire kicked infield on the next – and last tackle.
Davies – another player who has had an outstanding season in the Championship - dropped the ball in-goal and Ferres simply put a hand on it.
One of the touch judges stood his ground, but referee Chris Kendall indicated a try and video assistant Ben Thaler agreed.
In the next set Ferres burst into space from McGuire’s pass. He was tackled by Ian Hardman – making his 250th appearance for Rovers – but got an offload away and Joel Moon crossed.
Sutcliffe converted all three to make it 18-0 after 15 minutes.
At that stage if the teams could have shaken hands and called it a night they probably would have done.
With both teams facing huge games next week that would have been in everybody’s best interests, but the show had to go on and Featherstone – to their credit – showed real grit to keep Leeds out until a minute before the break.
It was winger Handley who got over at the corner from centre Hall’s smart pass after Moon, Ferres and McGuire had also handled. McGuire had crossed four minutes earlier, but Kendall and Thaler ruled the touchdown out due to a double movement.
Rovers were penalised four times in the first seven minutes of the second half, culminating in the yellow card.
Rhinos scored three successive tries after that. Carl Ablett celebrated his 300th career game by cruising over from McGuire’s pass; Sutcliffe touched down off a kick by Tom Briscoe and then another fine hall pass sent Handley racing over for his second. Sutcliffe improved all three to make it 40-0 on the hour. By that stage it was a case of how many more points Leeds would score.
Lockwood and Hardman did well to pull Ward down just short, but Brad Singleton stormed over on the next play.
That was the big prop’s first try of the season and the second came four minutes later, from Moon’s pass, bringing up the half-century.
Hall collected Sutcliffe’s kick for a deserved try with nine minutes left. Rovers thought they had scored five minutes from time when Hardcastle crossed from Matty Wildie’s pass. It looked like a try and Kendall signalled One, but Thaler decided there had been a knock-on, which was cruel.
The penalty count finished eight-six in Leeds’ favour (three-two for in Leeds in the first half).
It was eight-two inside the last 10 minutes, which was tough on Rovers, before Kendall tried to even things up – including signalling a penalty against Singleton for a high tackle on Luke Cooper when the Rhinos man was in possession.