Leeds Rhinos are quietly building towards the business end of the Super League season, but as is fast becoming the case in this ultra-demanding, congested campaign, wins like these are coming at a price. The eight-times Super League champions remain on course for success on all fronts after another impressive victory, this time against a Hull KR side who are playing for nothing more than pride in 2020.
But at the beginning of a potentially season-defining run of fixtures, which includes next weekend’s Challenge Cup semi-final against Wigan during a five-game stretch in under three weeks, injuries have again reared their ugly head. Leeds were, in truth, well on their way to victory here by the time Harry Newman was carried off on a stretcher, leading 18-0 thanks to tries from Rhyse Martin, Ash Handley and James Donaldson.
However, this Leeds performance was overshadowed by the harrowing screams of Newman - that could easily be heard inside the empty Halliwell Jones Stadium - as he came off worse in a seemingly innocuous collision 10 minutes before the break. The worst fears of those who rate Newman as one of the brightest young English talents in the game were confirmed post-match. “He’s broken his tibia and his fibula,” Richard Agar, the Leeds coach, said of Newman, who is set to be out of action for six months.
What this season has shown, however, with injuries to players more common than ever before, is that one man’s misfortune is another’s opportunity. Perhaps no player in the competition epitomises that better than Richie Myler. So often a figure of conjecture among Leeds supporters, an injury to Jack Walker has handed the England international a chance at full-back which he has seized with both hands.
His performances were enough to convince Leeds to reward him with a new contract, and he was again superb here. His try shortly after the lengthy delay for Newman’s injury underlined that, and it put the game beyond the reach of an under-strength Hull KR, despite Jimmy Keinhorst’s try on the stroke of half-time offering the Robins, whose youthful side are clearly building for next season now, a slither of hope.
“They don’t throw the towel in no matter what,” Tony Smith, the Hull KR coach, said. “They try hard but they’ve got some lessons to learn about starting games better.” That slow start cost his side any chance of victory here, with Leeds always able to hold their opponents at arm’s length after the break. Six minutes after the restart, Myler sent Handley over for his second, before further tries from Alex Mellor and Luke Briscoe when the game was already well beyond doubt.
In response, Hull KR backed up their own coach’s assessment of their effort with second-half tries from Ryan Brierley and Shaun Kenny-Dowall, on a day when they had rested a number of key players due to the burden being placed on Super League players in order to finish the season. Unfortunately for those who enjoy watching the sport’s best young talent, they will not see Newman again any time soon.