RUGBY LEAGUE: COVENTRY Bears started their 2018 campaign with a home friendly against Super League champions Leeds Rhinos on Friday night.
In front of 1,300 fans, by far Bears’ biggest attendance on record, Rhinos romped to a 14-70 victory – but coach Tom Tsang took many positives from his new look side’s first game together.
Friday night was the first time both Coventry and Leeds met since 1913, a game in which the Super League giants recorded their largest win in history when winning 102-0.
Though the same team triumphed on Friday, Bears held Rhinos for long periods of the game as tries from Chris Vitalini, Dan Gover and Hayden Freeman gave home fans something to cheer about.
Leeds included seven first team players and a collection of the country’s top young stars from their academy.
Bears went on the attack from kick-off as Ben Stead punted the ball into Rhinos’ half, only for the visiting side to see off Bears’ early efforts.
Harry Newman then opened the scoring for Leeds on 14 minutes following a clever offload. Skipper Jordan Lilley made no mistake when kicking the conversion.
A break by Ben Markland put Josh Walters over for Leeds’ second try three minutes later before Dakota Whyllie crossed over to make it 18-0.
A moment of composure allowed Bears to claw their way back into the game through the promising Chris Vitalini, who crossed over for an unconverted try.
Ben Stead’s grubber kick then allowed Dan Gover to race over for Bears’ second try as Paul Emanuelli kicked Bears to within eight points.
But first-half tries from Corey Johnson and Spencer Darley – both converted – stretched Rhinos’ lead to 20 points by half time.
Leeds soon made it 10-36 when Tyler Dupree crossed over ten minutes into the second half.
Two minutes later, Harry Newman ran half the length of the pitch to score again, putting the result beyond Coventry’s reach.
Promising Mikolaj Oledski then scored before Ben Markland and Tom Holroyd crossed over.
Oledski again crossed over before Markland added a further two tries as the Rhinos ran riot against the tired legs of Bears’ part time side.
Not all was lost for Bears though as Hayden Freeman started an attack following an interception.
And it was Freeman who finished the move, crashing over the line for the biggest cheer of the night.
A game that started as a commemoration of the past quickly turned into a glimpse of the future for Bears’ local side.