The eight game unbeaten run of the London Broncos came to a halt on Sunday as current Super League Champions, Leeds Rhinos, ran out winners, at a busy Trailfinders Sports Club, by 48 points to 32.
The Rhinos, still missing a few key players, managed to show their quality in a first half blitz that put London on the back foot almost from the first sound of the referees whistle.
The Rhinos clearly wanted to put their stamp on the game early on and they did with a hat trick from Joel Moon inside 14 minutes. The first came from an error by London in the opening set. The ball was dropped by Eddie Battyel and from the scrum, the ball was moved left. Moon found himself in just enough space to get around the last defender and stretch out to score. Liam Sutcliffe missed his conversion attempt from wide.
Kieran Dixon, uncharacteristically, put his re-start out on the full and from the penalty Leeds moved the ball upfield. Dixon attempted an intercept as he had done against Featherstone Rovers and Widnes Vikings in previous games but that allowed Moon to get out wide and he was over for his second try.
Moon completed his hat trick when Dwyer picked up a loose ball by and he broke 40 metres up field. He passed to Luke Briscoe, in support and Leeds were given a soft penalty. Leeds continued to attack and found space again for Moon to cross in the corner. Sutcliffe was on target again to give the visitors a 16-0 lead.
London started to claw their way back into the game after that early onslaught and they got a well deserved try when Dixon showed sheer determination to get over the line after cutting into midfield off his wing. Jarrod Sammut, on for the injured Pewhairangi, added the conversion to cut the lead to ten points.
Leeds came back in kind and Ward was held up over the line before Brett Ferres went close from a Richie Myler grubber kick. The fourth Leeds try eventually came from a longer range effort as Luke Briscoe collected a London kick 20 metres from his own try line and raced clear to score. Sutcliffe added the conversion.
Leeds were further ahead almost immediately from the restart when Myler and Golding combined in midfield. Although Golding was stopped, the ball was moved wide and Brett Ferres touched down. Sutcliffe added the conversion to give the visitors side a 22-6 lead at the break.
London Broncos were out early after the break knowing they had to score first to give themselves a chance of another upset.
They duly obliged and gave the home crowd something to cheer when Dixon attacked from deep. He was pulled down just inside the Leeds half but London moved the ball wide and fit again Rhys Williams crossed unchallenged for the Broncos in the corner. Sammut missed the conversion attempt but London looked a different side already.
The Rhinos would not lie down and again responded with tries in almost as many sets. The first came from Carl Ablett who finished off a good spell of pressure from the visitors before full back Ashton Golding grabbed two tries. The first was down to his footwork near the line. He was fouled as he put the ball down and referee Chris Kendall awarded an eight point try as Sutcliffe added the conversion and the subsequent penalty.
From the restart, Stevie Ward broke clear and he found Golding in support to go over. Sutcliffe added the conversion once again to make it 48-10 to the visitors.
However, London showed their determination and how they will be a contender in the Qualifiers with a late fight back with four tries in fifteen minutes.
Daniel Hindmarsh took a short ball and crashed over for his first ever try for the Broncos. He was also awarded man of the Match by former Sky Rugby League commentator Mike Stephenson.
Ben Evans scored a lovely try through the middle while centre Ben Hellewell juggled a ball only to keep hold of it and touch down in the corner. Welshman Rhys Williams scored his second and Leeds seemed to be hanging on towards the dying seconds but hold on they did to secure a 48-32 win.
London will be disappointed with the loss but now know, more than ever, the daunting task facing all the Championship sides in the Super 8 Qualifiers.
The next game is away in Toronto with the games between the two top sides, from the regular season level at one a piece. Following that the Broncos will return to the Capital to face another Championship side in Toulouse Olympique for the fourth time this year.
Tickets for the Toulouse game are available now :- londonbroncosrl.com/match-day-ticket- sales/
LONDON BRONCOS:- Walker, Dixon, Hellewell, Kear, Williams,Pewhairangi, Cunningham, Battye, Pelissier, Evans, Pitts, Hindmarsh, Davis
INTERCHANGES:- (All Used) Ioane, Spencer, Sammut, Harrison
TRIES :- Dixon (21), Williams ( 46,73), Hindmarsh ( 64), Evans ( 69), Hellewell ( 75)
GOALS:- Sammut 4/6
LEEDS RHINOS:- Golding, Briscoe.T, Keinhorst, Moon, Briscoe.L, Sutcliffe, Myler, Peteru, Dwyer, Singleton, Ferres, Ablett, Jones-Buchanan
INTERCHANGES :- (All Used) Oledzki, Cuthbertson, Mullally, Ward
TRIES :- Moon ( 3,5,6), Briscoe.L ( 33), Ferres ( 34), Ablett ( 55), Golding (59,63)
GOALS:- Sutcliffe 8/10