Leeds Rhinos 6 Wigan Warriors 19: Kyle Eastmond thwarted on return to Super League

He probably did not need it but, on his long-awaited return, this was a swift reminder to Kyle Eastmond of just how brutal rugby league can be.

The dual-code international, making his first appearance in the sport for almost ten years, did not suffer any injury on his Leeds Rhinos debut tonight.

Indeed, the scrum-half, who won six caps as an England centre during his career in union, came through his first 80 minutes unscathed in that regard, a positive for Rhinos coach Richard Agar given the number of players still sidelined.

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However, the brutality came from Eastmond quickly seeing how a team can give everything, toil so hard and for so long, and still come away with nothing if they suffer from momentary lapses.

Leeds, with such energy and spirit in defence and - for large periods - plenty of control when in possession were exemplary in many areas against a Wigan Warriors side missing a fair few of their own stellar names.

However, when it came to the crunch, their opponents demonstrated that little bit of extra class and composure to eke themselves home, led by former Rhinos favourite Zak Hardaker and with some subtle touches from another erstwhile Man of Steel Jackson Hastings.

Leeds had got back to just 8-6 at the start of the second period following a fine try from Alex Mellor, the makeshift centre who surged onto a wonderful flick pass from Luke Briscoe, the winger who enjoyed arguably his finest game in the club’s colours.

Rhyse Martin converted from the touchline and it was a perfect response to Wigan’s first half unconverted tries from Liam Farrell and Hardaker, leaving them in a promising position to push on and avoid a third successive defeat.

Leeds Rhinos' Kyle Eastmond on Leeds Rhinos debut against Wigan Warriors. (Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

However, Martin, the Papua New Guinea captain, made the cardinal sin of missing touch with a penalty and, in the next set, was fooled by Hastings as he dummied over on the last tackle to score.

Hardaker, who excelled at full-back yet again in Bevan French’s absence, unusually missed his third conversion attempt but it mattered not as Hastings slipped Farrell through for his second try in the 72nd minute to confirm a fourth win from four games for Adrian Lam’s side.

Hardaker did improve that and added a drop-goal with just seconds remaining to rub salt into the wounds.

It was harsh on Leeds who had played their part in what was a high quality contest for the majority.

Wigan Warriors' Zak Hardaker scores against his former club Leeds Rhinos. (Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

Indeed, Agar’s side controlled most of the first quarter, consistently finding themselves in the Wigan 20.

Unfortunately, for all of the excellent efforts of Mikolaj Oledzki, Matt Prior, Cameron Smith and co to get them in position, they lacked the final incisions once more.

It had been the same in Saturday’s Challenge Cup defeat against St Helens, Leeds understandably missing so much creative talent.

It was hoped Eastmond would remedy but - understandably given it was his first game in 12 months - the former St Helens star struggled to make his mark.

Leeds Rhinos' Alex Mellor celebrates his try from Luke Briscoe's wonder pass. (Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com)

He was neat and tidy in the first period without being heavily involved.

Leeds tended to direct most of their traffic down the opposite side via Martin and Kruise Leeming - fresh from his surprise day’s training with England on Tuesday - posed his usual threat when choosing his moments to dart out of dummy-half.

When Eastmond did receive possession, he kept his passing simple but, strangely, he did not kick until the half-hour mark.

Then, his attempt from his own 40m did not quite do enough to clear Hardaker. In fairness, though, few beat the Wigan full-back in any sort of competition in his current form.

Defensively, Eastmond closed down Hastings smartly in one instance and also was not found wanting when John Bateman, one of the most rugged carriers around, came his way.

He started the second period with more authority, linking for the first time with half-back partner Martin before also sliding in a grubber that forced their third goalline drop-out of the evening.

From there, Eastmond also sent out his best pass of the night to Luke Briscoe whose quality pass gave Mellor his try.

But it would not be enough, Hardaker having already scored with an instinctive chip and space when spotting full-back Jack Broadbent had momentarily come into the line to fill in for the grounded James Donaldson.

Farrell’s first was a simple one-on-one as the England second-row got on the outside of Alex Sutcliffe but Leeds’ enthusiastic youngsters can take plenty of credit for their overall display.

Leeds Rhinos: Broadbent; T Briscoe, A Sutcliffe, Mellor, L Briscoe; Martin, Eastmond; Oledzki, Leeming, Prior, Donaldson, Walters, Smith. Substitutes: Dwyer, Hall, Gannon, O’Connor.

Wigan Warriors: Hardaker; Bibby, Isa, Farrell, Hanley; Hastings; Singleton, Powell, Clubb, Bateman, Smithies, Partington. Substitutes: Harvard, Bullock, Smith, Shorrocks.