CHAMPIONS LEEDS Rhinos began their pre-season campaign with a 17-10 win at Betfred Super League rivals Wakefield Trinity.
Here are five talking points from the Wetherby Whaler Festive Challenge.
1: Boxing Day games have very little relevance. Last year Rhinos were routed 30-6 and went on to finish three places above Trinity and win their eighth Super League title. The game was as expected, high on effort, but low in intensity. However, both sides could take some positives into the new year, when pre-season will go up a few gears, particularly from the way they defended.
2: The major concern for Trinity was Tyler Randell’s knee problem, suffered after just five minutes. The luckless Aussie was injured in the penultimate game of last season and, depending on the results of a scan, could be a doubt for the league opener at Hull KR on February 2. Trinity have back-up at hooker in Kyle Wood and impressive performances against Leeds from Max Jowitt and Ryan Hampshire will give coach Chris Chester useful options at full-back and in the halves. With a host of first-choice players to come in, Trinity should not be too worried by this week’s result.
3: Playing at Belle Vue, due to building work at Emerald Headingley, was a break with tradition, but the crowd of 6,173 was almost 900 up on Wakefield’s Super League average last season. Hopefully that’s a sign of things to come, because the progress being made by Chester and chairman Michael Carter deserves more support.
4: At just 19, he is very young for a front-rower and still learning the game, having only started playing rugby league eight or so years ago, but Mikolaj Oledzki is a genuinely exciting prospect. He has made huge strides in a short space of time and will put pressure on Leeds’ established props this year. Oledzki is strong and mobile and his try against Trinity, when he juggled, held on and then blasted over the line, was an indication of why Rhinos are so excited about the Polish-born, England academy forward.
5: It’s still early days in pre-season, but after successive Christmas defeats Leeds will be happy with beginning their latest new era with a victory and, overall, Rhinos look in much better shape now than two years ago after their treble success.