THE start of a new era it may be, but old problems returned to haunt Leeds Rhinos in their opening Super League defeat at Warrington Wolves.
Fielding four debutants and with Dave Furner in charge for the first time in a meaningful game, Leeds had expected to at least be competitive against the joint-title favourites.
However, after a relatively positive start, they were ripped apart in a dynamic 25-minute spell by the home team who had the game in the bag when they led 20-0 at the interval and could afford to cruise through the second half.
Leeds could take some heart from sharing the 12 points after half-time, but they were second-best and Furner clearly has some hard work ahead of him if Rhinos are to return to the top end of the table this year.
Rhinos dropped off too many tackles, their forwards were dominated physically and there was a lack of cohesion in attack – all issues which they suffered from last season.
“The first half probably summed it up,” admitted Furner of Leeds’s third round one defeat in four years.
“We had some opportunities to put some pressure on and we didn’t.
“We were playing against a team that was in two finals last year and we gave them the opportunity there and possession there that we probably didn’t need to.
“That’s the big point I took to the players at half-time.
“In the second half we had a little bit of pressure, got a little bit of opportunity with the ball, but I don’t think we’ve shown what this team is capable of.”
We were playing against a team that was in two finals last year and we gave them the opportunity there and possession there that we probably didn’t need to.Dave Furner
Furner felt Leeds’s failure to test Warrington on their line was their biggest failing.
He added: “In the first 20 minutes we sustained some good defensive sets, then we get a penalty and we don’t kick it out.
“Little things can be big things. That was one, kicking it dead... we needed to build that pressure and get some opportunities.
“We will learn from that no doubt, Richie [Myler] and Tui [Lolohea] getting their combinations.
“It is one thing practicing it in opposed at training, the other is live in a game when we are playing for two points. I’ve got no doubt those two will grow and obviously the team as well.”
Warrington were twice reduced to 12 men with second-rowers Jack Hughes and Toby King sin-binned at opposite ends of the game.
Hughes was shown a yellow card for tackling Konrad Hurrell off the ball after a break by Ash Handley which had threatened to create the opening try.
Warrington scored eight points while a man short, Stefan Ratchford stepping through the defence, converting and adding a penalty.
Back-to-back errors led to a second Warrington try, for Josh Charnley and then impressive hooker Daryl Clark forced his way past a series of half-hearted tackles to hand the home team full control.
Warrington gave a debut to Australia stand-off Blake Austin who is favourite to win the Man of Steel award this year.
He scored their only second-half try from a one-two with King who was then sin-binned seven minutes from time for a dangerous throw on Stevie Ward.
This time Leeds did make their advantage count, if only to avoid a whitewash, as Ward showed tremendous strength to touch down with three minutes left. Ward had a strong game for Leeds and Liam Sutcliffe also impressed, but Furner admitted Rhinos will need to be a lot better away to Wigan Warriors on Friday.
“We showed glimpses there of how this team can play, but not enough,” he conceded.
“We’ve just got to keep practicing. We’ll have a look at this game and the areas we need to improve on and then take it to Wigan.”
Warrington Wolves: Ratchford, Lineham, Goodwin, Atkins, Charnely, Austin, Patton, Hill, D Clark. Cooper, King, Hughes, Westwood. Substitutes: J Clark, Murdoch-Masila, Philbin, D Walker.
Leeds Rhinos: J Walker, T Briscoe, Watkins, Hurrell, Handley, Lolohea, Myler, Cuthbertson, Parcell, Merrin, Ferres, Sutcliffe, Ward. Substitutes: Dwyer, Donaldson, Oledzki, Singleton.
Referee: C Kendall (Huddersfield).