LEEDS RHINOS’ miserable year ended in dismal fashion as Wakefield Trinity surged to an emphatic 30-6 win in the Wetherby Whaler Festive Challenge.
Trinity were the better team throughout at a blustery and bitterly cold Headingley Carnegie and will go into 2017 in good heart.
They were strong and well-organised in defence and posed more of a threat on attack, creating a host of chances and finishing six of them.
But for some soft errors, largely due to ring rust, they could have won by a bigger margin and the signs for coach Chris Chester and new head of rugby John Kear were very positive.
It is very early days, with more than a month until the season begins, but it was a hugely disappointing – and worrying – hit-out for Rhinos.
After their traumatic 2016 season it was important for Leeds to give an indication of better times ahead, but they failed to do that.
They were caught out defensively numerous times and lacked ideas and a killer touch with the ball, particularly in a listless second half. On six occasions before their only try they got over Trinity’s line, but failed to score.
Rhinos had some key players missing, including their most creative attacking forces, but their 19 was drawn entirely from the full-time squad and the team they had out should have been more competitive.
Wakefield – playing under the Trinity brand for the first time in two decades – fielded a strong line-up with Scott Grix, Sam Williams, Kyle Wood and Mitch Allgood all starting and fellow recruits Keegan Hirst and Mason Caton-Brown among the substitutes, though they also have key men – including Jacob Miller and Craig Huby – to come in.
Williams showed every sign of being a good addition and Grix stood up well, as hooker Mikey Sio and centre Reece Lyne, but it was an impressive team effort.
Leeds had the first chance when Ashton Golding’s kick-off eluded Liam Finn to force a goal line drop out, but Trinity’s defence held firm and they almost scored in their first set.
Grix’s pass sent Lyne slicing into space and he had support on his inside, but held on and was tackled.
The lively opening set the tone, with the ball being moved around more than normally happens in the Christmas game, though there were plenty of errors from both teams.
There’s no such thing as friendly rugby league and there was an early scuffle involving Rhinos recruit Cory Aston and Wakefield captain Danny Kirmond.
By that stage, after 12 minutes, Golding had already suffered a busted nose in a tackle by Anthony England and Jordan Lilley had been placed on report for a dangerous tackle.
Trinity opened the scoring in the next set when Tom Johnstone crossed for the first of his hat-trick from Grix’s pass.
Aston reacted quickly to get the ball back from the restart and then Josh Walters touched down from Lilley’s pass, but referee Chris Kendall initially decided he was held up and then awarded Wakefield their fourth successive penalty, for a double movement.
The lead was increased moments later, on 18 minutes when Wood grubbered over the Leeds line and Lyne grounded the ball.
Wakefield had other chances when Ben Jones-Bishop just failed to take Lyne’s pass close to Leeds’ line and then Johnston almost got over from Williams’ smart kick to the corner.
After that Leeds began to force Wakefield into a series of errors in the visitors’ half, but excellent defence – Jack Ormondroyd and Sam Hallas being held up over the line on successive plays – and some naïve attack by the hosts ensured there was no more scoring before the break.
The start of the second half was a mirror image of the first, this time Wakefield’s kick-off bouncing dead.
But while Rhinos had been unable to take advantage, Wakefield made it count with Sio nipping over from acting-half following the restart, for a try which Finn converted.
Moments later Trinity almost scored again when Bill Tupou surged down the left flank, but Grix spilled his pass.
Ten minutes into the half Hallas got over from acting half, after Anthony Mullally had gone close, but he couldn’t ground the ball.
Wakefield put the result beyond doubt with 23 minutes left when Joe Arundel bounced over from Grix’s pass.
The best move of the game came in the next set. Williams slipped the ball to Tupou, who surged clear and used Grix in support. Finn was on hand to take the final pass, but Golding’s tackle forced him to lose possession a metre out.
Mullally and Aston were both held up over the whitewash – again on successive plays – before Johnstone finished spectacularly from Tupou’s pass on 67 minutes, Finn adding the extras.
Lyne caused Rhinos’ left-side defence serious damage in the opening 40 and Tupou did the same after the break.
There was too much whistle from referee Kendall. The penalty count was 10-8 to Leeds, whose final award produced their only try, 10 minutes from time. Ormondroyd, who was among the substitutes, capped a relatively encouraging first appearance when he crashed over from a tap in front of the posts and Lilley tagged on the two. But that was no real consolation for Leeds. Nobody stood out for the hosts and the performance was notably similar to so many in the first half of last season, when Rhinos won only three of their opening 19 competitive games.
Deservedly the final say went to Wakefield, with winger Johnstone completing his treble three minutes from time.
Wakefield fielded 22 players to Leeds’ 19, including England academy duo James Batchelor and Judah Mazive who were not on the teamsheet.
A minute’s silence was held before the game in memory of players, administrators and fans who have died in 2016.
Those included Trevor Whitehead, prop in Leeds’ 1961 Championship final triumph, who passed away last week aged 79.
His funeral will take place at Lawnswood Crematorium on January 3 (3pm).
Leeds Rhinos: Golding, Briscoe, Keinhorst, Ablett, Handley, Sutcliffe, Aston, Singleton, Lilley, Garbutt, Walters, Delaney, Cuthbertson. Subs Mullally, Ormondroyd, Baldwison, Smith, Jordan-Roberts, Hallas.
Wakefield Trinity: Grix, Johnstone, Tupou, Lyne, Jones-Bishop, Finn, Williams, England, Wood, Allgood. Ashurst, Kirmond, Crowther. Subs Sio, Arona, Arundel, Hirst, Caton-Brown, Walker, Annakin. Batchelor, Mazive.
Rteferee: Chris Kendall (Huddersfield).