Hull, many people’s choice as the best bet to challenge the grip of the “Big Four” in Super League this season, not only lost their first game, but also the new recruit to whom they look for inspiration.
Gareth Ellis finished the evening with his leg in a cast without having touched a ball in earnest, while Hull ended well beaten by the champions for the last two seasons.
After a tight first half, three tries in quick succession midway through the second ensured that the Rhinos would win on opening day for the 13th year in a row. They will still be the team to beat, one fancies, at the other end of the season.
The Hull coach, Peter Gentle, said that Ellis would go straight for scans and X-rays on the injury. “It wasn’t ideal, but we won’t use it as an excuse,” he added. “They kicked into another gear in the second half and we fell apart.”
Brian McDermott’s outstanding record of the last two seasons was recognised earlier yesterday with a new rolling contract that should keep him at the Rhinos for the foreseeable future.
His team were due last night to face one of their most distinguished old-boys, but Ellis injured his ankle ligaments in the warm-up and took no part – a sickening blow for Hull after the lengths they went to in order to sign him on his return from Australia.
The loss of Ellis understandably affected the visitors in the early stages and they fell behind in the 15th minute to a try and a goal from Leeds’ leader, Kevin Sinfield.
Danny McGuire’s bouncing kick induced a fatal hesitation in the new Hull full-back, Shannon McDonnell, and the Rhinos captain had a simple task in taking advantage.
Leeds lost another of the game’s debutants, when loose-forward Joe Vickery became the second man to limp off the new Headingley pitch. Then, just after the half-hour, a Hull side that was starting to show some cohesion drew level, Joe Arundel going over from Joe Westerman’s pass out of the tackle.
Daniel Holdsworth’s first goal for his new club levelled the scores and that was the way a contest with plenty of early season rough edges stayed until just short of the hour mark.
Ben Galea marred his Hull debut with a knock-on in the first tackle of a set. Leeds’ eyes lit up and, with an air of inevitability, they scored through yet another debutant, Joel Moon, on the end of Sinfield’s long pass.
The walls were breached and, three minutes later, another pass from the omni-present Sinfield sent Jamie Peacock through to show some nimble footwork on his way to the line.
With the Hull defence becoming ragged, Chris Clarkson, McGuire and Ryan Hall added further tries, with Sinfield predictably kicking six goals from six attempts.
Leeds Hardaker; Vickery, Watkins, Moon, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Peacock, Burrow, Bailey, Jones-Buchanan, Delaney, Ablett. Subs used Clarkson, Kirke, McShane, Achurch.
Hull McDonnell; Crooks, Arundel, Yeaman, Briscoe; Holdsworth, Seymour; Pitts, Houghton, Lynch,Whiting, Galea, Westerman. Subs used Green, Johnson, O’Meley, Heremaia Referee S Ganson (St Helens)