YOUNG STAND-OFF Bobbie Goulding kicked a last-gasp penalty to earn Wakefield Trinity Wildcats a deserved 18-18 draw at Leeds Rhinos in the annual Heatshot Festive Challenge.
The award of the penalty was fair enough, Liam Sutcliffe catching Ben Shulver around the head a few metres from the Leeds line, after Luke Briscoe had spilled Goulding’s high kick.
Matty Wildie was ready to take a tap, despite time being up on the scoreboard, but referee Joe Cobb told him to move the ball back a few metres and the delay was long enough for a message to get out to take the two.
Goulding duly landed the kick from just to the left of the posts and Cobb immediately blew for time, despite the fact the hooter had not sounded and there was still 98 seconds left on the timekeepers’ watches.
It was an exciting end to a dull game and a fair result, with Wakefield having the better of the first half and Leeds on top for much of the second.
Games this early in pre-season – the new Super League campaign doesn’t begin for either side until February 16 – rarely provide any pointers as to what lies ahead.
The purpose is to provide some income during an otherwise barren period and give fans chance to get out of the house on Boxing Day.
A crowd of 8,909 – despite steep admission prices – will have boosted both clubs’ coffers and proved there is an appetite for this annual fixture, though even by Christmas standards, it wasn’t a classic.
There was too much lost ball, most of it from Rhinos and too little direction in either attack, which was inevitable with unfamiliar half-back pairings.
Wakefield had a slightly stronger side – in terms of players likely to feature in the first team next term – but considering the disruption they’ve suffered over the off-season it was a good effort to match Leeds try for try and the draw will have been a valuable morale booster.
The visitors went ahead after 21 uneventful minutes, after Taulima Tautai and Danny Kirmond forced Joel Moon into a knock-on near his own line and in the resulting set Peter Fox crossed from Dean Collis’ pass. Collis made a surprise appearance as both teams differed from the named line-up. Rhinos had lost Ian Kirke (ribs) and James Duckworth (hamstring) in the build-up and Ryan Bailey dropped out on the day due to an Achilles injury, leaving Leeds without a recognised senior prop.
Luke Briscoe came into the squad on the right-wing after a long injury lay-off, Chris Clarkson moved from the back-row to prop and Elliot Minchella got a start at loose-forward, Alex Foster having already been drafted into the starting pack.
Academy prop Dan Grange was added to a five-man bench, alongside hooker/half-back Robbie Ward, prop George Milton, half-back Ben White and back-rower Josh Walters.
Grange and Walters are both Leeds Carnegie rugby union products, who linked up with Rhinos last season and were part of the under-19 squad which reached the academy Grand Final.
Lee Smith (after a knee clean-out) and Reece Lyne (ribs) were missing from Wakefield’s expected starting 13, but Collis turned out in the centres alongside Paul Sykes and Goulding was promoted into the stand-off role.
Goulding, who made his Super League debut last season, has been training with Wildcats, but does not yet have a contract for 2014. Ali Lauitiiti – due to be among the substitutes – did not appear due to a calf muscle pull, but youngsters Corbyn Kilday (prop) and Jack Anderson (back-rower) got an opportunity among the substitutes, along with first-team squad member Jon Molloy, a front-rower.
Wildcats had an opportunity to increase their lead when young winger Tom Johnstone burst down the left flank, but full-back Ben Jones-Bishop stood his ground to make a try-saving tackle.
Jones-Bishop – Rhinos’ eventful man of the match – again came to Leeds’ rescue by keeping Sykes out, but a try out of the blue sent the home side in ahead at the interval.
Leeds had created only half-chances before that, with Goulding’s tackle preventing Zak Hardaker getting over after a break by Sutcliffe, who went close himself before Brett Delaney (who later went off with a rib problem) failed to take the stand-off’s pass a few metres out.
But then on 38 minutes Jones-Bishop found a gap in midfield and Hardaker was in support to take the pass, the makeshift scrum-half having far too much pace for the Wakefield defence.
Hardaker’s conversion gave Rhinos a 6-4 lead against the run of play, but they had the better of the second half.
Ash Handley – the England academy winger – thought he’d scored from Hardaker’s kick right at the start of the second half, but referee Cobb ruled offside.
Leeds did get their second try just nine minutes after the break.
Sutcliffe grubbered over the line on the last tackle, the defence thought it was going dead, but alert centre Thomas Minns chased a seemingly lost cause and got the ball down before the whitewash.
Hardaker again added the extras, but the gap was back down to two points at the end of the third quarter when Wildie finished off a bout of football in Wakefield’s first attack of the half and Goulding landed the conversion. After a terrific start to his Rhinos career Chris Clarkson has struggled to nail down a regular place over the past couple of seasons.
But he had a strong game in an unfamiliar role and was a deserved third try scorer for the hosts, blasting over from close range off acting-half Aiton’s pass.
Hardaker’s kick restored the two-score gap with 17 minutes left, but Wildcats again responded as Molloy barged over and Goulding converted.
The penalty count was 9-4 in Wildcats’ favour (3-2 to Wakefield in the first half).
Leeds Rhinos: Jones-Bishop, L Briscoe, Minns, Moon, Handley, Sutcliffe, Hardaker, Achurch, Aiton, Clarkson,Delaney, Foster, Minchella. Subs (all used): R Ward, Milton, White, Walters, Grange.
Wakefield Wildcats: Mathers, Fox, Collis, Sykes, Johnstone, Goulding, Wildie, Tautai, McShane, Moore, Washbrook, Kirmond, Trout. Subs (all used): D Smith, Shulver, Annakin, Walshaw, Molloy, Kilday, Anderson.
Referee: Joe Cobb (Leigh).