SEVERAL good individual performances, particularly from fringe players, warmed the crowd and gave both coaches something to think about, but injuries cast a shadow over the Wetherby Whaler Festive Challenge.
Leeds Rhinos ended their championship year on a positive note with a 17-10 success, their first in three Boxing Day games and they also did better than hosts Wakefield Trinity in the injury count.
Half-back Richie Myler suffered a bang to the head and did not feature in the second half and Leeds were without fellow recruit Nathaniel Peteru due to a knee/hamstring injury, but otherwise came through unscathed.
Trinity weren’t so fortunate. They suffered a major setback after just five minutes when hooker Tyler Randell suffered damage to a knee and then prop Anthony England hobbled off in the second-half.
Wakefield were already without new signing Justin Horo, who had been due to play, but was left out due to a shoulder problem.
They had to reshuffle, but were competitive throughout in what was a typical pre-season opener.
The new campaign is more than a month away and neither team is ready.
As always on Boxing Day there was lots of effort and the sides defended well, but were off the pace on attack and the game lacked intensity.
All Rhinos’ tries were scored by front-rowers – though one of them filled the extra-prop role at loose-forward.
Rhinos created more opportunities, but Carl Ablett, Mikolaj Oledzki, Brad Dwyer, Jack Ormondroyd and Brad Singleton were all held up over the line, which is credit to the hosts’ determined defence.
A bell-ringer by Wakefield winger Bill Tupou on Ashton Golding was one of the game’s most memorable moments.
For Trinity, Max Jowitt got a run at full-back and looked good throughout.
There were some encouraging touches, in unfamiliar conditions, from new signing Pauli Pauli, with and without the ball and their other new face, Jordan Baldwinson, worked hard against his former club.
Just eight days after signing from Leigh Centurions, Ryan Hampshire started at scrum-half and was Trinity’s best player, particularly in the second 40.
For Rhinos, Myler looked lively before being hurt and there was a solid contribution from their other recruit, hooker Dwyer, who had two spells either side of suffering a head cut which required stitching.
Stand-off Jordan Lilley kicked a late drop goal to cap a good all-round performance, but Leeds’ most encouraging contributions came from forwards Ormondroyd and Oledzki, who have a total of seven Betfred Super League appearances between them.
They each scored a good try, ran strongly and defended well, Oledzki producing one eye-catching hit on Paulie.
With Peteru to add into the mix, Leeds have some interesting options in the pack for next year.
Peteru’s absence led to a call-up for former Stanley Rangers player Owen Trout – an under-19s forward and brother of ex-Wakefield man Kyle Trout – among the substitutes.
He was the only Rhinos player without a Super League appearance, while Trinity gave a run off the bench to young prop Lewis Wray and half-back Christian Ackroyd, plus full-back Luke Hooley, who has played in the Championship for Dewsbury Rams and Oldham.
Ackroyd, who is very highly thought of by Trinity’s coaching staff, got more game time than expected after replacing Randell, when Kyle Wood moved to hooker.
Both coaches experimented at times. For example, when Dwyer went off in the first half, Jack Walker came on at full-back and Golding switched to hooker. Liam Sutcliffe moved into the halves after Myler was replaced and landed a 40-20.
Rhinos struck first, after 15 minutes, through stand-in captain Singleton.
He barged over from close-range off a pass by Myler, who converted, moments after Anthony Mullally was hauled down just short by Baldwinson and Joe Arundel.
Myler made an excellent tackle to keep Arundel out soon afterwards and Rhinos had a touchdown chalked off when Dwyer and Myler linked to send Ablett stepping over, but referee Tom Grant ruled he was held up and the Leeds man was penalised for his reaction.
Trinity pulled a try back eight minutes before the interval, after Wood landed a 40-20.
From the tap Trinity moved play to the right through Wood and Hampshire and Ben Jones-Bishop scored acrobatically from Jowitt’s excellent pass.
James Batchelor could not convert, so Leeds held a 6-4 lead at the interval.
The only other meaningful action of the first half came after Jones-Bishop’s try when Rhinos created some space on the right, Tom Briscoe kicked ahead and Grant decided Myler had knocked-on before touching down, the former Catalans man being hurt in the process, though he stayed on until the break.
Walker had a good game for Leeds. He saved a try soon after the interval with a tremendous tackle which jarred the ball loose from Hampshire’s grasp after a one-two with Danny Kirmond, who was pulled down by Mullally.
Ormondroyd’s big effort was rewarded on 54 minutes when he showed impressive pace to race over after bursting through the first line of defence, though Sutcliffe could not tag on the two.
Trinity made a series of line-breaks, but Leeds scrambled back well. One such threat from Jowitt ended when Ash Handled intercepted and at the end of the next set Rhinos scored their third try, on the hour. Lilley’s kick was pushed back by Jimmy Keinhorst to Oledzki and the big teenager juggled, regained control and smashed his way over the line for a fine score which Sutcliffe improved.
Hampshire was denied a try by good defence from Sutcliffe, but got the hosts back into contention nine minutes from the end when his perfectly-timed pass sent Arundel through a big gap.
Batchelor’s conversion cut the gap to six points and Arundel was inches away from a second try with three minutes remaining, but Golding made the tackle and then he and Harry Newman got underneath Mason Caton-Brown to hold him up from acting-half.
Lilley landed a drop goal 90 seconds from time to complete the scoring.
It was the first time Leeds’ Boxing Day fixture has been played away from Headingley since rugby league switched to a summer season in 1996.
Kick-off was delayed by 10 minutes due to congestion outside the ground and the crowd of 6,173 was 890 up on Trinity’s 2017 Super League average. The penalty count was 5-5, 2-2 in the first half.
Wakefield Trinity: Jowitt, Tupou, Lyne, Arundel, Jones-Bishop, Wood, Hampshire, England, Randell, Baldwinson, Kirmond, Batchelor, Arona. Subs Pauli, Wray, Hirst, Annakin, Caton-Brown, Ackroyd, Hooley, Crowther.
Leeds Rhinos: Golding, Briscoe, Keinhorst, L Sutcliffe, Handley, Lilley, Myler, Mullally, Dwyer, Singleton, Walters, Ablett, Ormondroyd. Subs Walker, Smith, Oledzki, Trout, Jordan-Roberts, Newman.
Referee: Tom Grant (Leeds).