Leeds Rhinos began their Qualifiers campaign with an ultimately comfortable 62-6 win at Championship side Featherstone Rovers, after being made to work hard in the first half.
Featherstone were unfortunate to trail 18-6 at the break, but Rhinos weren’t troubled after adding two tries in three minutes at the start of the second period.
Rhinos finished with 11 tries – seven of them in the second half – but Rovers were more competitive than the scoreline suggests.
Rhinos coach Brian McDermott showed Rovers respect by fielding his strongest side of the season, with Danny McGuire, Joel Moon and Brett Delaney all returning.
Adam Cuthbertson was left out, but only Stevie Ward – who has not played in 2016 – was unavailable due to injury.
Eleven of Leeds’ team played in last year’s Grand Final win over Wigan and the ones who didn’t included a former NRL hooker of the year, ex-Australian Test prop and current England international.
Ex-Leeds players James Duckworth, Kyle Briggs and Darrell Griffin were in Featherstone’s 17, alongside Luke Briscoe and Jordan Baldwinson – who are on loan from Rhinos – and Jack Ormondroyd, who will join them next year.
Rhinos went ahead on six minutes through Kallum Watkins after fine play by Liam Sutcliffe and McGuire.
On 15 Sutcliffe went over and converted his own try after McGuire, Carl Ablett and Watkins had handled.
Rovers came more into the game as the half went on and deservedly got on the scoreboard 11 minutes before the break.
Brett Ferres hurled a pass at Misi Taulapapa who burst uphill and found Luke Cooper in support. His pass was knocked down by Tom Briscoe and Anthony Thackeray kicked in goal and dived on the ball before it went dead.
Briggs landed a touchline conversion, but Leeds replied through a powerful finish nfrom Joel Moon after good play by James Segeyaro and Ablett.
Sutcliffe converted from wide out – despite a firework being ignited in the stand behind him as he lined up the kick - and added a penalty after the hooter, following a high tackle on Delaney.
Rhinos got their attacking game together five minutes into the second half when Sutcliffe broke through after Rob Burrow and McGuire had handled and Watkins was in support to score.
Moments later the Rovers defence allowed McGuire’s kick to bounce, Tom Briscoe gathered and handed on to Watkins and Mitch Achurch finished off.
Sutcliffe converted both to make it 30-6. Ablett barged over from Segeyaro’s pass, Tom Briscoe burst past his brother after a powerful run by Watkins and Sutclifef crossed for Leeds’ fifth try in the third quarter.
Luke Briscoe’s run was carried on by Taulapapa and Ian Hardman was in support, but Jimmy Keinhorst made a try-saving tackle.
He held on too long and was sin-binned and Thackeray went over following the penalty. Referee Joe Cobb indicated a try, but video assistant Chris Kendall spotted an obstruction and Moon scored his second touchdown in the resulting set.
Sutcliffe’s seventh goal brought up the half-century before Watkins completed an outstanding hat-trick from Segeyaro’s pass.
The full-back converted and was on target again after Watkins raced almost the length of the field for the final try two minutes from time.