Leigh Leopards 14-12 Leeds Rhinos: Highlights, player ratings and talking points

Based on today as evidence, both Leigh Leopards and Leeds Rhinos can look forward to the 2023 season and be optimistic.

Both teams showed graft and work rate and both defended brilliantly. There were flashes of brilliance in attack but often great defence stood up to deny chances.

In the end, the Leopards just edged it.

Highlights:

Leutele’s instant impact
Ricky Leutele showed why so many teams were interested in his signature for 2023 when he got on the outside of his man and produced a flick pass to put Josh Charnley in at the corner. A statement try against the club who signed the man he replaces on the left: Nene MacDonald.

Roberts runs through
After being slightly caught out for that try, a former Leigh man made amends with a cracking try at the other end. Quick hands created a bit of space for young Luis Roberts who bumped off the defence to tear through and showed great confidence to dummy passed fullback Zak Hardaker to score on debut and against his home town club.

Leutele makes amends
Not the prettiest try this though it followed some sweeping rugby from Leigh which was met by some good Leeds scramble. But after that, their was a longer than usual delay and then Leutele burrowed over.

Rhinos carve through brilliantly
Leeds then produced a lovely pattern play down the right to take the lead once more. A number of runners down the right, moving the ball at speed, Sezer popped a short ball through for Walters who then offloaded to allow Leeming to score under the sticks.

Second-half explodes into life
Mere minutes into the second half, the game burst into life as Leigh put plenty of pressure on young Jack Sinfied who was hit late resulting in a bit of a brawl and a penalty for Leeds.

Leeds youngster step up with sensational defence to deny Leopards onslaught
Around the hour mark, Leigh heaped pressure on Leeds but the young Rhinos stood up to the pressure with Levi Edwards tackle on Leutele a highlight.

Leigh leave it late
Late on Leigh levelled the scores and who else but Zak Hardaker to do it. After a break from Kai O’Donnell, Leigh went out wide and the fullback burrowed over against his former club. On the third time of asking, Leigh finally converted a try through Reynolds to win the game.

Talking points:

Austin and Sezer swap
In an interesting move, in their first appearances of pre-season, Aidan Sezer and Blake Austin swapped sides. Last season, Blake Austin, a right footed halfback, played on the right and Aidan Sezer, a left footer, played on the left but today they swapped.

Leigh here to entertain
The Leopards set their stall out early with some very expansive rugby and sweeping moves from either side creating and finding space for the likes Leutele to exploit. They also utilised dummy runners to good effect and weren’t afraid to follow a sweeping move with another straight after.

Leeds’ Jekyll and Hyde defence
Leeds’ defence at the end of 2022 was magnificent and helped guide the Rhinos to the Grand Final. It was their scramble that impressed and in pre-season it has impressed again. However, they so often follow up good scramble with a lapse in concentration. It happened against Wakefield and again today as Leutele scored. It could just be pre-season cobwebs but it is something Leeds will want to change and it did somewhat at the start of the second half as the youngsters stood up.

Walters makes a claim for backrow spot
Sam Walters started at prop today but when he spoke to Serious About Rugby League on Boxing Day, he expressed a desire to play second-row, his original position. He underlined why he should feature there with some good lines one of which helped create a try.

Handley at fullback
Ash Handley played centre and wing when he was coming through the Rhinos’ academy. He then began to play a touch at fullback despite shining on the wing as he broke through in 2015. In the end that’s where he would settle but a player with such strength and speed who is a clear threat in broken field, fullback is an ideal position for him. Up against a former Leeds fullback in Zak Hardaker, he seemed like a very similar player in that number one spot such was his elusive running. That said, he did switch to centre in the second half as did Hardaker for that matter.

Leigh experimenting
Speaking of which it was interesting to see Hardaker switch to centre with many people believing that one of the reasons he joined Leigh was to play fullback. That said, centre is a role he played very well in 2022 for Leeds and it allowed Gareth O’Brien to have a crack at fullback.

Glad to have Leigh fans back
It may have only been a friendly but the Leigh fans were very much up for it against one of Super League’s biggest clubs. They created a great atmosphere and will be great to have in Super League again.

Leigh show physicality
Leigh showed their physicality and how they’ll compete with the teams at the top in the second half with some brutal sets down the Leeds end making it impossible for Leeds to get off their own line.

Halfback pairing for the future?
After giving Austin and Sezer 40 minutes, a potential future halfback pairing for Leeds in Morgan Gannon and Jack Sinfield took to the field. Sinfield was returning to action after a groin problem. Gannon continued his learning at halfback despite being a second-row thus far in his career.

Player Ratings:

Leigh Leopards
1 Zak Hardaker – 7
22 Tom Nisbet – 6
3 Ed Chamberlain – 7
4 Ricky Leutele – 8
5 Josh Charnley – 8
15 Ben Reynolds – 6
17 Gareth O’Brien – 7
14 Ben Nakubuwai – 7
19 Aaron Smith – 6
10 Rob Mulhern – 7
11 Joe Wardle – 7
16 Oliver Holmes – 6
13 Josh Asiata – 7
Substitutes
8 Tom Amone – 7
7 Lachlan Lam – 8
18 Matty Davis – 8
21 Jacob Jones – 6
26 Umyla Hanley – 6
23 Jacob Gannon – 6
24 Kai O’Donnell – 8
25 Nathan Wilde – 6

Leeds Rhinos
5 Ash Handley – 7
24 Luis Roberts – 8
30 Levi Edwards – 7
16 Derrell Olpherts – 7
23 Liam Tindall – 7
6 Blake Austin – 7
7 Aidan Sezer – 8
18 Tom Holroyd – 7
9 Kruise Leeming – 7
22 Sam Walters – 8
10 Zane Tetevano – 7
31 Leon Ruan – 7
25 James Donaldson – 7
Substitutes
1 Richie Myler – 7
14 Jarrod O’Connor – 7
15 Sam Lisone – 6
17 Justin Sangare – 7
19 James McDonnell – 6
20 Morgan Gannon – 6
29 Jack Sinfield – 6
Alfie Edgell –

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