LISTLESS LEEDS Rhinos were embarrassed 38-6 by a Wakefield Trinity team who made a spectacular return to form last night.
Trinity were full value for their huge success, which was only Wakefield’s eighth win in 45 Super League meetings between the teams.
Leeds cancelled out an early Wakefield try, but trailed 26-6 at half-time and never looked remotely capable of getting back in the game.
Rhinos’ only try came in the 11th minute and a couple of the touchdowns they conceded – the last of the first half and first in the second – came off almost comical errors.
Trinity had to be good enough to take advantage and they were.
The win – their first in the Super-8s at the ninth attempt – lifted them into fourth place in the table, until Friday’s games at least, and means Castleford Tigers will be all-but assured of the the league leaders’ shield if they win at Salford.
Trinity responded magnificently to two below-par performances, in which they had conceded 77 points and scored only 22.
Jacob Miller made an outstanding return after nine games out of action with a broken leg suffered in the win at Wigan in May.
With Liam Finn excellent alongside Miller, Trinity’s kicking game caused Rhinos huge problems, which is an old failing on Leeds’ part.
Full-back Scott Grix and centre Reece Lyne had strong games and hooker Kyle Wood was equally impressive.
Wakefield’s pack got on the front foot after a scrappy opening quarter and the bottom line was they looked much more interested.
Leeds improved for spells in the second half, particularly defensively and conceded only two tries – both from errors – but the damage had been done.
It was another example of Rhinos’ inconsistency. Six days after probably their best performance of the season – in the 32-16 home win over Wigan Warriors – they came up with an abject display.
Nothing should be taken away from Wakefield, but nobody played well for Leeds. They lacked energy, several individuals were well off their game and there was no clear plan B once Wakefield got on top.
Rhinos will end round two in second place, but Hull will be only one point adrift if they win at St Helens.
Rhinos had no excuses. Their only change from the win over Wigan a week ago was Rob Burrow’s return on the bench, in place of Jordan Lilley.
Burrow was left on the sidelines until eight minutes into the second half, when he came on for Matt Parcell. Jimmy Keinhorst didn’t get on at all.
Mitch Garbutt (calf) remained on the casualty list along with Brett Ferres (knee) and Keith Galloway (Achilles).
Rhinos’ 22-year-old prop Jordan Baldwinson, who was not selected against Trinity, is close to completing a move to Wakefield for next season.
Trinity coach Chris Chester dropped Mason Caton-Brown and Sam Williams from the side embarrassed at Huddersfield Giants last Friday.
Joe Arundel came into the centres and Miller started at stand-off.
Those changes paid off after only four minutes, when Trinity went ahead. Miller’s run got them into a dangerous position and then Arundel brushed off Danny McGuire to score from a pass by Matty Ashurst, who was making his 200th career appearance.
Finn added the extras, but Leeds were level within seven minutes, after successive penalties.
The second was for a foul on Brad Singleton following a surging run by McGuire, who was halted just short in David Fifita’s tackle.
Stevie Ward was then pulled down on the line and on the next play McGuire grubbered between the posts and Adam Cuthbertson, who was probably Leeds’ best player, ran through to touch down for his 10th try of the season, which Kallum Watkins improved.
There was nothing for Leeds’ fans to cheer after that. Following a bright start the game went flat for a spell with both teams making errors.
Anthony England might have scored for Trinity if Finn’s pass had not been forward and Leeds wasted back-to-back penalties when Ashton Golding spilled Carl Ablett’s pass.
Lyne raised the standard with a terrific run, but Keegan Hirst fumbled from Finn’s subsequent kick.
Inevitably, the next try followed an error. Jamie Jones-Buchanan knocked on inside Leeds’ half and following the scrum Grix kicked through, Golding hesitated and Ben Jones-Bishop got the ball down against his former club.
After the poor fare up to then, the next try was special and immediate. In the set from the restart Wood burst past Jones-Buchanan from inside Trinity’s half and Grix was in support to score unchallenged.
Finn converted both to make it 18-6 with 10 minutes left in the half and then added a penalty when Leeds were caught offside in front of their own posts five minutes later.
Wakefield’s supporters would have settled for a 20-6 interval lead, but they didn’t have to. Successive penalties kept the pressure on, Trinity opting to try for another touchdown from the second of those which was in a kickable position.
Leeds defended quite well and seemed to have survived, but with seven seconds of the half remaining Finn grubbered over the line, McGuire lost it, Watkins lost it and Miller – following up more in hope than expectation – reacted quickly to touch down.
Finn’s goal opened a 26-6 interval lead.
Rhinos conceded six successive penalties either side of the break and Fifita was held up over the line from the last of those. It looked like Leeds had survived, but then Golding dropped the ball as Miller shoved him backwards and Ashurst – consistently one Trinity’s best players – picked up and put down to celebrate his milestone game in style.
Finn maintained his 100 per cent record with the boot.
At the other end Brad Singleton was held up over the line and, on the hour, Wood, who had a fine game, zipped over from acting-half.
Referee Ben Thaler was on the spot and thought it was a try, but video assistant Phil Bentham felt otherwise and awarded Leeds a penalty for a double-movement.
Wakefield completed the scoring three minutes from time on a free play after a Leeds error.
Grix’s low kick was fumbled by Watkins and Bill Tupou touched down. Finn kicked his seventh goal.
There was a setback for Trinity in the final moments when Arundel went off with a suspected damaged elbow.
The penalty count finished 9-9. It was 5-4 in Wakefield’s favour in the first half.