ON THE face of it, this could not have gone much better for Leeds Rhinos.
They secured another two points and a sixth straight win which takes them ever closer to the League Leaders’ Shield.
And, more importantly, the West Yorkshire side emerged from the KC Stadium last night with no fresh injury concerns ahead of their Challenge Cup final date with Hull KR in a week’s time.
The latter is always the biggest concern during the last match before Wembley but Brian McDermott took precautions by allowing Danny McGuire and Kallum Watkins to put their feet up and left out Adam Cuthbertson and Joel Moon, too, as they nursed minor knocks.
The replacements, including Robbie Ward and Ash Golding getting rare chances, did enough to help secure the victory.
However, all that aside, dig a little deeper and it can’t disguise the simple fact that this was a truly turgid game.
At times, it descended into farce as both sides endeavoured to make a hash of things with the first half – which finished 6-6 – proving particularly error-strewn and hapless.
Huge underdogs Hull KR may well think, even if Albert Kelly plays on one leg, they will have a chance of beating Leeds next week if this is how McDermott’s side play.
They are smart enough, though, to know the league leaders – so peerless and classy this term – will not be anywhere near as scratchy in seven days’ time.
Hull, whose hopes of finishing in the top four had already been pretty much ended despite a shock win at champions St Helens last week, came up with a few quality moments in amid the dross, but there was all the same frailties that have seen them be inconsistent yet again in 2015.
It was summed up in the 71st minute when, having clawed back to trail just 24-22 and pressing on the Leeds line, they sent yet another wayward pass that was picked up by Tom Briscoe, the former Hull winger, who accepted the latest gift to race 90m and seal the win.
The game had promised much more after an entertaining start that saw Ash Handley required to pull off a try-saving tackle on Steve Michaels inside the opening minute following a sweeping Hull break down the left flank from deep inside their own half.
Similarly, Zak Hardaker, the silky Leeds full-back who has to be close to ousting Sam Tomkins from the England No1 jersey, made a weaving kick return to find open space and almost send Rob Burrow away.
Curtis Naughton grabbed the Leeds half-back by his short collar to deny him but, in the same set, a smart off-load from Josh Walters sent Handley over between the posts for a sixth-minute try improved by Kevin Sinfield.
The hosts responded instantly with a fine try of their own, Mark Minichiello’s quick footwork deceiving first Carl Ablett and then Hardaker as the Australian second-row swerved over from 15m off Marc Sneyd’s pass.
Sneyd converted but, from then on until the break, very little went right for either side as they contrived to struggle.
Hull did produce some glimpses early in the second period when Sneyd sent Dean Hadley into space and Jamie Shaul, lively at least at full-back, sent Michaels in at the corner.
But Jordan Rankin was soon brushed aside by Ablett, filling in at centre for Moon, who scored and Burrow supported another Hardaker break to scamper over for back-to-back tries.
Ordinarily, that would normally be enough for Leeds to ease home but a loose pass from them in the Hull 20 was snaffled by Jack Downs, the teenage second-row making his home debut, who then showed great skill to put Shaul racing 70m for a try on the hour.
Again, though, the hosts imploded as they failed to deal with an admittedly surprise short re-start from Hardaker which saw Burrow send Ryan Hall clear down the left for another soft try.
Jordan Abdull’s clever midfield chip allowed the involved Shaul to latch on and allow Rankin to dive over but then came that latest gaffe for Briscoe to rub it in against his old employers.
There was even time for Sinfield to sneak down the touchline, too, and see Burrow in for his second of the night and 200th career try as Hull, who lost Fetuli Talona to a leg injury early on, fell away yet again.
Hull FC: Shaul; Naighton, Talanoa, Logan, Michaels; Abdull, Sneyd; Paea, Houghton, Watts, Minichiello, Hadley, Westerman. Substitutes: Palea’aesina, Downs, Fash, Rankin.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker; Handley, Ablett, Briscoe, Hall; Sinfield, Burrow; Singleton, R Ward, Garbutt, S Ward, Keinhorst, Walters. Substitutes: Leuluai, Peacock, Achurch, Golding.
Referee: Joe Cobb (Manchester)
Wigan strengthened their hold on second place in Super League with an emphatic 28-0 win over Warrington, whose season of under-achievement goes from bad to worse.
A third defeat from three matches in the Super 8s puts the Wolves out of the race for the semi-finals and, adding to their ignominy, they were nilled for the first time at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.