HULL KINGSTON ROVERS look to have found a half-back pairing ready to make a big impact in Super League this year, but it was Leeds Rhinos who began their season with a win.
Rovers have pinned high hopes on their new combination of former Canberra Raiders stand-off Terry Campese and ex-Gold Coast scrum-half Albert Kelly and the duo terrorised Leeds in the first half, before the visitors took a grip of the game.
With the two Australians calling the shots, the home team led 18-4 midway through the first half and 30-16 moments after the break.
When Kris Welham intercepted a pass by Kevin Sinfield to open the second-half scoring the home team looked set to ruin Leeds’s impressive record in the season’s opening fixture.
But Rhinos have developed impressive resilience during their decade of success and once again they found a way to win a game which seemed to be going away from them, scoring 24 unanswered points in the final 32 minutes.
Despite that, Rovers showed signs they will be more of a force in 2015, once their new-look side gels.
Rovers included 11 players making their first competitive appearance for the club, though Ryan Bailey wasn’t among them.
The former Leeds man had been struggling with an Achilles injury during the week and did not make the team.
He was one of only three players missing from the Leeds line-up who had featured in their previous competitive game, last September’s home play-off defeat by Catalans Dragons, the others being the injured Brett Delaney and Liam Sutcliffe, who was not selected.
Leeds included just one debutant, Australian forward Adam Cuthbertson, though Mitch Achurch and Brad Singleton, two players looking to have a big year, were recalled to the team.
The visitors drew first blood after just two minutes when former Hull winger Tom Briscoe squeezed over at the corner for an unconverted try from Kallum Watkins’s pass.
But Rovers then took a firm hold on the contest thanks to a varied kicking game from their halves.
On five minutes Ryan Hall failed to deal with Campese’s kick and Kelly was on hand to touch down.
Josh Mantellato landed the first of his five goals from as many attempts and the Robins took flight again just three minutes later when Mitchell Allgood plunged over from Adam Walker’s offload, after Rhinos had been penalised for obstruction attempting to defend Kelly’s kick.
Then on 15, Kelly’s kick forced a drop out, a call angrily disputed by Leeds full-back Zak Hardaker and at the end of the resulting set Kelly was in for his second, from another Campese kick.
Rhinos showed once they got a share of the ball they could make use of it, scoring two tries in five minutes to cut the gap to two points.
Sinfield supported Watkins’s break for the first of those and then Danny McGuire crossed after a one-two with Carl Ablett.
Sinfield improved both scores, but Ken Sio’s magnificent tackle on Hall, who looked set to go the full length of the field, proved a crucial intervention as Campese scored from his own grubber moments later to give the home team a 24-16 half-time advantage.
Rovers went further ahead through Welham on 42, but crucially Kieran Dixon dropped the ball over the line moments later.
Leeds had another huge stroke of fortune when McGuire was awarded a try despite a clear obstruction, then Watkins capped a fine display by stepping through.
Hardaker touched down from Cuthbertson’s offload to nose Leeds ahead and the visitors sealed their 18th opening game win in 20 Super League seasons when Singleton supported McGuire’s break and Sinfield landed his sixth conversion.
Brian McDermott, the Leeds coach, reflected on a “very tough game”.
He said: “I think we might find ourselves a bit fortunate about winning this one. A couple of things went our way.”
Robins coach Chris Chester said: “There was lots of positives.We were the better side for about 65 minutes.”
Hull KR: Dixon, Mantellato, Welham, Goulding, Sio, Campese, Kelly, Walker, Carlile, Allgod, McCarthy, Horne, Burke. Substitutes: Donaldson, Cockayne, Blair, Green.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker,T Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, Sinfield, McGuire, Jones-Buchanan, Aiton,Peacock, Ablett, S Ward, Cuthbertson. Substitutes: Burrow, Leuluai, Achurch, Singleton.
Referee: B Thaler (Wakefield).