Rugby League: London at a loss in final warm-up

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Leeds Rhinos 38 London Broncos 12

IF THERE was a faint air of unreality pervading this game, both coaches blamed it squarely on the workload on their players rather than on their impending meeting at Wembley.

By the standards set in Super League so far this season, this was a lame, bloodless affair, lacking the usual urgency. Dress rehearsals for the Cup final tend to be that way, the failure of the game's decision makers to realise that rugby league in its current form should only be played once a week was surely the biggest factor.

"You can take Wembley out of the equation. It's playing two games in four days that did it," said an angry Graham Murray after his Leeds side had recovered from sleepwalking through the first half to put an end to the only unbeaten record in the game this year. "The players were lacklustre, the crowd was lacklustre. You're putting tired players out there and that's when you get injuries."

His opposite number, Dan Stains, whose Broncos have just a four-day turnaround before facing the Super League leaders, St Helens, on Friday night, was equally outspoken about the demands placed on players by squeezing an extra four rounds of competition into the season.

"It detracts from the quality of the product," he said. "What fans want to see is quality games. I believe rugby league is the toughest game in the world; even in boxing you get four or six months to recover."

Leeds' performance in the first half fell well below the standard they would expect. Twice they fell behind to moves worked near their line, first when Shane Millard barged over and again when Glen Air - in for the injured Shaun Edwards - put Karle Hammond in.

Dean Lawford capitalised on a waltzing run by Iestyn Harris for Leeds' first reply and Brad Godden's pass to Francis Cummins left them only two points in arrears at the break, however unconvincing they had been.

"I thought we were a bit untidy in the first half, but we had a chat at half-time and credit to the lads, they got their second wind," Murray said.

A London side lacking Peter Gill as well as Edwards did not quite have the expertise to hold on to its advantage. Two minutes into the second half, long passes from Harris and Lawford sent Anthony Farrell strolling through and Leeds hardly looked back again.

Lee Jackson's run after catching Air's low kick helped to set up Marvin Golden for the try that took it beyond doubt, before Leroy Rivett embarrassed John Timu with the old wing man's speciality of coming in to draw the marker and then accelerating down the touchline. Harris and Lawford completed a leisurely victory with Harris finishing with five conversions.

While neither coach would admit to any connection with their appointment on 1 May, it was London who came away with the fresh scars, their unbeaten record gone as well as a couple of players added to their injury list. Matt Salter is likely to need a lay off to recover from concussion, while Steele Retchless emerged badly battered around the head and face.

Against that, though, Stains retains a lingering hope that Edwards might yet make a miracle recovery for Wembley. "I know he hasn't given up hope and neither have I," he said. "The medical opinion is eight to 12 weeks and they know more about it than us, but Shaun is a different beast."

Leeds Rhinos: St Hilaire; Sterling, Golden, Godden, Cummins; Harris, Lawford; Masella, Jackson, Fleary, Morley, Farrell, Sinfield. Substitutes used: Rivett, McDermott, Glanville, Mathiou.

London Broncos: Tollett; Warton, Fleming, Timu, Offiah; Hammond, Air; Retchless, Callaway, Salter, Seibold, Millard, Toshack. Substitutes used: Ryan, Peters, Spencer, Hughes.

Referee: J Connolly (Wigan).