Wakefield Trinity beat Leeds Rhinos to end long wait for first Betfred Super League win of 2023
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Not since beating St Helens at the Totally Wicked Stadium last August had Trinity tasted success in a competitive fixture but they are finally up and running in 2023 at the 16th attempt, writes James O’Brien.
Remarkably, Wakefield achieved the feat despite being without 13 first teamers and losing trialist Hugo Salabio to a red card early in the second half.
The Frenchman was sent off on debut for a wild spear tackle on Richie Myler, but that only served to galvanise Applegarth's side.
Late tries from Matty Ashurst and Morgan Smith clinched the win for Wakefield to leave them four points from safety heading into a break for the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup.
Trinity opened the scoring for the first time since round one and were in uncharted territory when they went two scores ahead.
Leeds fought back to be level at 10-10, but were outfought and outenthused as they suffered the ignominy of back-to-back defeats to the bottom two following their Magic Weekend loss against Castleford Tigers.
Heading into the Belle Vue clash, it had the look of a good fixture for both teams.
For winless Wakefield, a home date with a flaky Leeds represented one of their better chances of breaking their 2023 duck, while Rohan Smith's men were seemingly desperate to make amends for their previous derby defeat.
But Trinity simply seemed to want it more as they brushed off the loss of Mason Lino and a dozen others to give Applegarth his first victory as a head coach in a competitive match.
The injury crisis forced Applegarth to field three debutants, with Salabio, Romain Franco and Joe Law all drafted in.
Leeds had seven players missing themselves, providing young forward Leon Ruan with the opportunity to make his debut.
Franco and Ruan were both on the scoresheet in an entertaining contest in baking heat.
The Rhinos made the brighter start, but failed to finish breaks by Mikolaj Oledzki and Blake Austin in a frustrating opening quarter for the visitors.
Oledzki's ambitious pass went to ground before Austin dropped the ball cold after sauntering past Eddie Battye.
Leeds were punished for their profligacy when Jack Croft capped a remarkable recovery from his neck injury with the opening try in the 11th minute.
Croft – taken to hospital in Newcastle just seven days earlier – was in the right place to finish after Lee Kershaw patted back Will Dagger's kick to the corner.
Leeds were staring down the barrel of an embarrassing defeat when Max Jowitt put Franco over out wide.
Dagger missed the conversion but Wakefield had a two-score lead for the first time this year.
A water break sparked the Rhinos into life, although there was more frustration initially.
Macdonald failed to take in Myler's high kick and was then forced off for a head injury assessment after a heavy fall in an incident that saw Ash Handley have a try ruled out for a knock-on.
Leeds belatedly got on the board just after the half-hour mark through Cameron Smith after Sam Walters’ offload put Myler into space.
The Rhinos then pulled level when Ruan crashed over on the back of an Austin 40/20.
There was nothing to separate the sides at half-time after Rhyse Martin smashed a straightforward conversion into the post, but the game took a huge twist early in the second period.
Salabio was forced into an error deep in Leeds territory and took his frustration out on Myler with a dangerous tackle that could put paid to his chances of earning a contract.
Logic suggested that the Rhinos would go on to claim a routine win, but the Rhinos and logic do not belong in the same sentence.
Dagger knocked over a penalty after Austin sent a drop-out out on the full but the Leeds half-back quickly atoned for his mistake with a classy solo effort, stepping into space before seeing off Jowitt's attempted tackle to score in the corner.
Martin failed to convert and then allowed the restart to go into touch as the momentum swung back Trinity's way.
The Rhinos compounded the error by conceding a penalty for offside to give Dagger the chance to make it 14-14.
The game's biggest turning point came when Handley was yellow-carded for a trip on Franco to wipe out Leeds' numerical advantage.
Smith's men had no answer to Wakefield during Handley's 10-minute stint in the sin bin, with Ashurst crashing over to edge Trinity back ahead just after the hour mark.
Wakefield knew their long wait for a win was over when Myler dropped Morgan Smith's high kick and the half-back pounced to finish and spark joyous scenes at Belle Vue.