Leeds Rhinos looked like challenging their record thrashing of Hull Kingston Rovers in the 2015 Challenge Cup final as they swept past the same opponents in the quarter-finals of this year’s competition.
It was a commanding enough performance in its own right, but even more impressive considering the way the Rhinos have been twisted and turned by coronavirus. They overcame Huddersfield Giants despite having seven players stood down last week, and received a positive test earlier this week and had to leave several others out of the team again as a result.
But despite the damage being continually wrought to Richard Agar’s training and planning, his team produced one of the outstanding performances of their season to move to within 80 minutes of the final in this unusual Challenge Cup campaign.
The tie was all but over after just a quarter, after four tries in a blistering start. It was nothing fancy; just the pounding work of Ava Seumanufagai, Matt Prior and Mikolaj Oledzki to punch holes down the middle, and ruthlessly exposing some mistakes in their opponent’s rearguard.
Hull KR neither received help nor helped themselves, in a performance which seriously underwhelmed after two sensational showings against Super League pace-setters Wigan Warriors and St Helens. Tony Smith’s team might have smelt an upset had they produced their box of tricks, but with so little possession for so long they never had the chance.
Story of the match
It was a match Hull KR were simply never in. Seumanufagai was the first to breach their brittle backline, finding a big gap next to the ruck after half a dozen minutes, and Luke Gale was treated to the same gift shortly after and glided through to set Ash Handley up for another.
Salford Red Devils had come back from 12-0 down to overcome Catalans Dragons in golden-point extra time in the previous game, but such a comeback never looked likely here. The Robins’ defence was again caught out of shape when Prior’s offload sent Kruise Leeming on the break ahead of a well-executed move finished by Tom Briscoe, scorer of five tries in that 2015 romp.
Harry Newman assisted that effort and then followed up with a delightful individual score, beating no fewer than five defenders with a run from out wide which displayed both nimble footwork and steely strength. Hull KR finally stemmed the flow but were 30-0 down at half-time as Leeming pivoted with apparent ease through a white wall of defenders.
The only bite to be seen from Rovers was an accusation from James Donaldson that Jamie Ellis had sunk his teeth, though Donaldson looked the more likely aggressor on replays. Only into the second half, when Seumanufagai was sent to the sin bin for a high challenge on Matty Gee, did they at last come to life, Ellis providing some invention with a kick, chase and touchdown.
But normal service soon resumed. Gale sent Richie Myler through a gaping hole and the impressive full-back had the awareness to spot Leeming available on his second for the hooker’s second try. Luke Briscoe then got in on the action, gifted a four-pointer by Ellis’s loose pass.
Rovers showed defiance, Jez Litten smartly shooting from dummy-half to find the line before Ellis rolled over to add further respect to the scoreline. But Leeds had the last word and appropriately it was Rhyse Martin who scored his first try of the season, before converting to complete a perfect record from the tee.