BEN Jones-Bishop scored a hat-trick to help Leeds Rhinos defeat Wakefield Wildcats 42-20 in the Super League play-offs on Saturday night.
The winger's treble was complemented by a brace by the superb Rob Burrow, while Kallum Watkins and captain Kevin Sinfield also starred as Rhinos edged out their West Yorkshire rivals in an entertaining elimination play-off contest at Headingley Carnegie.
Richard Agar's on-song Wildcats gave the defending champions a real run for their money on their home turf, leading early into the second 40 minutes before tiring under a mountain of second-half pressure from the hosts.
Brian McDermott's men deserved to progress but the scoreline flattered them, and Wakefield were left with plenty of positives to take from an encouraging performance, and an encouraging season, that saw them finish the regular campaign with a club-record seven straight wins.
Rhinos started with real attacking intent but came up against a stubborn Wildcats defence, who thwarted everything their hosts had to throw at them in the opening 15 minutes.
The only change Agar made to his team from last week's win at Salford was bringing former Leeds fans' favourite Ali Lauitiiti back into the starting line-up, with Frankie Mariano dropping to the bench and Kyle Trout out of the 17.
Leeds pushed hard for the opening score but while couldn't find the breakthrough at one end, Wakefield didn't have any trouble in breaking the Leeds defence with their first real possession in the Rhinos half.
Andy Raleigh was held up with one effort but shortly after Tim Smith provided a bullet pass for Ben Cockayne to cross in the corner. Sykes couldn't convert but Wakefield had the lead.
Things could have got better for the visitors five minutes later when Sykes broke and had Cockayne in support but his pass was a forward one.
It needed a moment of magic to get Brian McDermott's men on the scoresheet and it came from the impressive Watkins, who spotted a gap in the Wildcats defence and darted towards the try-line before off-loading to the supporting Burrow. The pass looked a forward one but Burrow didn't complain and Sinfield added the extras to give his side the lead.
The Leeds try didn't open any floodgates, however, as Wildcats regrouped and continued to frustrate their hosts.
It resulted in former Rhinos man Lee Smith regaining the lead for Wildcats just after the half-hour mark. Tim Smith started a flowing passing move that saw his namesake play a one-two with Cockayne on the left before crossing the line. Sykes this time did convert.
Agar's battling men looked set to hold on to their four-point lead going into half-time. They had Rhinos rattled, with Danny McGuire guilty of a slopppy knock-on and an out-of-sorts Sinfield, perhaps rattled by an off-the-ball incident with Richie Mathers, launching a kick straight out of play on the full.
But the champions hit Wildcats with a sucker-punch right on the hooter. Watkins was again the architect, spinning in and out of two Wakefield markers, and Burrow again the try-scorer under the sticks to give Sinfield a simple conversion to send his side in 12-10 up at the break.
Any signs of the momentum being fully with the Rhinos was put to bed immediately after the hooter as Wakefield came flying out of the traps to regain the lead.
Frankie Mariano took a pass and broke the Leeds line to run 20 metres before off-loading to the supporting Mathers to dive over against his former club. Sykes again converted.
The visitors had the best of the opening ten minutes on the restart, forcing their hosts into a goal-line drop-out as they looked to build on their lead.
But from the next set Ryan Hall intercepted a loose ball and ran 50 metres to get the hosts in good position to attack the Wakefield line. On the last tackle Sinfield produced a superb crossfield kick to Jones-Bishop, who was left with a simple try to level. The Rhinos skipper converted to fire his side back ahead.
It brought about a spell of huge Leeds pressure on the Wakefield line for the next five minutes but, thanks to stern Wildcats defence and strange decisions in the Rhinos attack, the hosts couldn't make their visitors pay.
That was until just after the hour when, after being camped in the Wildcats half, Burrow weaved his magic and put Danny McGuire in for his 200th Super League try. It was a try the hosts had deserved and Sinfield made it four kicks from four.
And just with Wakefield looking for a way back into the tie, a spilled ball by Andy Raleigh on the attack allowed Rhinos full-back Zak Hardaker to scoot around the Wakefield defence and use his lightning pace to run the length of the pitch and score under the posts to give the hosts some breathing space at 30-16.
Agar's men, typically this season, refused to throw in the towel and Lauitiiti scored against his former club to keep them in the game. Tim Smith's grubber caused problems in the Rhinos defence and Watkins kicked the bouncing ball into the path of the Wakefield second-row, who touched down just in time.
And the gap could have narrowed further minutes later when Danny Washbrook broke through the Leeds defence but produced a poor, tired pass with Cockayne ready for the off-load and the score.
It proved crucial, with Rhinos racing in with two tries in the last ten minutes to make the score a flattering one in their favour. Both came from Jones-Bishop to complete his hat-trick, both were assisted by Watkins.
Rhinos: Hardaker, Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Ablett, Hall, Sinfield, McGuire, Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Delaney, Bailey. Subs: Clarkson, Ward, Lunt, Griffin.
Wildcats: Mathers, Fox, Collis, Lee Smith, Cockayne, Sykes, Tim Smith, Amor, Ellis, Raleigh, Lauitiiti, Kirmond, Washbrook. Subs: Mariano, Wilkes, Wood, Johnson.
Referee: Steve Ganson.
See Wakefield Express online throughout the week and next week's paper for all the match reaction and pictures.