LEEDS RHINOS’ mini-revival was halted by a remarkable performance from patched up Wakefield Trinity who completed a deserved Betfred Super League double with a 26-24 success at Belle Vue.
Though Rhinos weren’t anywhere near full-strength Trinity’s absences were more numerous and significant, but they looked like a spirited side who believe in themselves and know how to win in tough circumstances.
Leeds are capable of producing the occasional good performance, but not of backing up.
Having had one less day to prepare may have been a factor, but Rhinos got nowhere near the level they produced in the Good Friday win over Huddersfield Giants and, once again, looked like a team in real danger of dropping into the Championship.
They were missing blockbusting centre Konrad Hurrell, owing to a hamstring injury and clearly lack a plan B on attack. They applied all the pressure in the first half and perhaps expected Trinity to run out of energy after the break. But the hosts were the better side in the second 40 and cut Leeds apart from long range. It was 66 minutes before Wakefield played the ball in Leeds’ 20 and by that stage they were 26-12 ahead.
Rhinos got their act together a little in the final 10 minutes, but by then it was too late and though it finished four tries each, the better team won.
When the teamsheets were written probably the only people inside the ground who thought Trinity would win were the group in their changing rooms.
They were already without their left-side three-quarter pairing of Tom Johnstone and Bill Tupou and both first-choice halves, Jacob Miller and Danny Brough, among others and centre Joe Arundel, hooker Kyle Wood and second-row Matt Ashurst all dropped out from the team beaten at Castleford Tigers last Thursday.
Mason Caton-Brown switched to the centres and winger Lee Kershaw, who had been on loan at Oldham, made his debut. Jordan Crowther filled in as an emergency hooker. Trinity’s attitude seemed to be ‘we’ve nothing to lose, let’s give it a go’ and they certainly left nothing in the changing rooms.
Wakefield led 12-0 after 20 minutes and though Leeds made it all square at the break, it was an outstanding defensive effort from the hosts.
Young winger Kershaw scored the opening try and had a fine first appearance at the elite level. Ryan Hampshire was very good at scrum-half and Trinity seemed to be lifted by David Fifita’s inclusion, on the bench, after it seemed he would miss out because of a calf-muscle problem.
Trinity went close to opening the scoring at the end of their first set when Lyne – who was excellent throughout – dabbed a kick through, Max Jowitt hacked on and Ben Jones-Bishop raced through, but could not touch down.
Jowitt made a half-break soon afterwards, but Caton-Brown knocked on and, at the other end, Lyne made a terrific tackle to wrap up Nathaniel Peteru before he could off-load when Leeds seemed to have created an overlap.
That was an indication Wakefield meant business and they grabbed the lead in spectacular style on 10 minutes. Leeds should have scored, but Tom Briscoe dropped Kallum Watkins’ pass.
Caton Brown picked up and off-loaded to Kershaw and he raced 80 metres with only Leeds front-rower Wellington Albert chasing.
Hampshire converted and Rhinos had an escape when Tui Lolohea spilled Ben Reynolds kick, but Trinity were penalised for offside. Leeds forced a drop out at the end of that set, but Lolohea hurled a pass into touch and in Rhinos’ next attack Richie Myler’s pass was intercepted by Lyne and he raced a similar distance to Kershaw’s earlier score for a converted touchdown which made it 12-0.
At that stage, Rhinos were putting very little together with ball in hand, despite constant pressure and they did well to pull back level by half-time. The gap was halved on 24 minutes, four after Lyne’s try, when Myler kicked towards the line on the last tackle and Liam Sutcliffe did well to make a catch and get the ball down for a try which he also improved.
On 33 minutes Trinity cracked again and that was down to an outstanding off-load from Merrin, who put Brett Ferres over after Sutcliffe – who converted – had gone close.
The try came after Kershaw took a high kick, but a strong chase shoved him back in goal to force a drop out.
A minute into the second half Hampshire’s kick took a wicked bounce, was spilled by Mikolaj Oledzki and gathered by Jowitt. He gave it to Reynolds, who was pulled down just short by Owen Trout.
That was the first time Trinity had got close to Leeds’ line, other than the tries. Rhinos were offside and Hampshire kicked the hosts back in front. They got two more penalties in the next set, the second for a ball steal on Keegan Hirst and Hampshire booted them further ahead from that.
When Leeds got back-to-back penalties moments later, the chance went begging as Ferres spilled Myler’s pass. With 26 minutes left Trinity put together the first flowing move of the game as Hampshire and Lyne moved the ball wide and Jones-Bishop scorched down the line for an excellent, though unconverted, try which extended the gap to eight points. On the hour the same two players were in the build-up and Jowitt raced over, Hampshire’s goal opening a 14-point gap.
The game was effectively gone before Leeds started to play. With 10 left Matt Parcell crossed after Ash Handley and Sutcliffe – who converted – had handled. Parcell went over on the finallplay and Sutcliffe added the extras, but the two-point margin flattered Leeds.
They simply weren’t good enough. Whatever the circumstances, they will remain in relegation danger until they can find some sort of consistency. This was an opportunity missed and could be costly at the business end. All Trinity’s defence in the first half should have cost them, but Leeds didn’t do enough to wear Wakefield down.
Sutcliffe had a good game and England academy second-row Trout, who made his Super League debut against his hometown club, didn’t seem out of place.
Merrin also looked sharp, just 48 hours after returning from compassionate leave in Australia. Jamie Jones-Buchanan dropped out from the Good Friday side.
Leeds lost Albert to a head injury in the first half, reducing them to three available substitutes for the second successive game.
Fellow front-rower Nathanial Peteru will miss Sunday’s game at home to Hull KR because of suspension, but Adam Cuthbertson – who has been on the injury list and wasn’t in the squad – warmed up before the match.
The penalty count was seven-six in Rhinos’ favour, five-two to them in the first half.