Rhinos fielded two teams, with only wingers Jack Broadbent – who switched to full-back – and Liam Tindall playing both sides of the interval.
A near full-strength line-up ran in three tries to take an 18-6 half-time lead, playing up the slope, before a fringe team were out-scored 16-12 in the second period.
On attack, Leeds’ first-half team played some good rugby and created numerous chances.
Lack of match practice showed in some of their execution, but stand-off Blake Austin got himself into space a couple of times, providing the final pass for Rhinos’ third try and Aidan Sezer controlled things well at his side.
Full-back Richie Myler was influential on attack and also made a couple of outstanding last-ditch tackles.
Most importantly, Leeds’ big guns got 40 minutes’ game time under their belt, on a heavy pitch, against good opposition who will be pushing for promotion to the top-flight at the end of the year.
Leeds’ second-half team was very young, especially in the backs, but rich in potential.
Aided by the likes of Brad Dwyer, Bodene Thompson and Alex Mellor, Leeds’ fringe players surprised Rovers early on, extended the lead to 20 points before Featherstone – in ex-Leeds boss Brian McDermott’s first game as coach – rallied to set up an exciting finale.
Playing in his new position of centre, Tom Briscoe opened the scoring after 16 minutes with a good finish from Myler’s short pass, after Rovers had turned the ball over close to their line.
On 28 minutes Austin burst into a gap with Broadbent in support and though Gareth Gale did really well to catch and then pull him down, the winger got a scruffy offload away which Harry Newman collected to cross for Leeds’ second try.
Rovers pulled six points back through Jack Bussey, who powered over from close-range off Tom Holmes’ pass at the end of an attack which was begun by a brilliant offload from John Davies to Craig Hall, who converted the try.
On the stroke of half-time, Austin spotted Tindall unmarked on Leeds’ left-flank, on the final play and the young winger got over at the corner. Rhyse Martin added the extras from the touchline, to add to two earlier conversions.
Rovers hung in well, but Leeds could have been further in front at the interval.
Tom Briscoe – playing on the same side of the field, if not quite directly opposite his brother Luke, who was on Rovers’ right-wing – knocked-on over the line inside the first couple of minutes and Newman fluffed a couple of opportunities, with a knock-on and then an offload into touch.
Featherstone defended well throughout and began to get some go forward late in the half, but most of their field position came from penalties, plus a Leeds error when Tindall spilled Morgan Smith’s high kick.
Other than Bussey’s try, Rovers got over the line once through Junior Moors, but he was held up.
They played some nice rugby at times, but made some errors and poor decisions, which reflected the fact this was their first hit-out.
Rhinos’ try at the start of the second half, which made it 24-6, was a beauty, big forward Sam Walters running a good line on to a clever pass from stand-off Oli Field, whose father Jamie had spells with both Leeds and Featherstone.
Rovers struck next through Hall from an assist by Moors, though the kick was missed after Hall had narrowed the angle.
In the second half, Leeds had centre Levi Edwards and winger Mackenzie Turner up against last season’s Championship player of the year Hall and Gale, who scored tries for fun at that level in 2021.
Turner, who is set to play for Rhinos’ reserves this year, was the only player brought in from outside the full-time squad and he distinguished himself with a stunning try-saving tackle to force Gale into touch soon after Hall’s try.
Leeds increased their lead midway through the half through Mellor, the second-rower going over from a pass by acting-half Dwyer, who had replaced Kruise Leeming as captain.
Moors and his former Castleford Tigers team-mate Jesse Sene-Lefao are a second-row pairing that will be the envy of most Championship clubs.
Sene-Lefao looked in need of more work, but Moors had a fine game and crossed for Rovers’ third try, from Brett Ferres’ pass; Hall added the two and then converted again when Gale crossed with five minutes left, the same player being held up over the line moments later amid a frantic finale.
Featherstone Rovers: Hall, L Briscoe, Hardcastle, Hellewell, Gale, Holmes, M Smith, Kopczak, Wildie, Lockwood, Moors, Sene-Lefao, Bussey. Subs Jones, Davies, Trout, Ferres, Cooper, C Field, Gill, McConnell.
Leeds Rhinos first half: Myler, Tindall, T Briscoe, Newman, Broadbent, Austin, Sezer, Oledzki, Leeming, Tetevano, Gannon, Martin, C Smith. Second half: Broadbent, Turner, Edwards, Simpson, Tindall, O Field, Sinfield, Holroyd, Dwyer, Thompson, Mellor, Walters, O’Connor. Second-half sub Mustapha.
Referee: Scott Mikalauskas (Leigh).
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