TEENAGE WINGER Ash Handley made a name for himself as Leeds Rhinos crushed Wakefield Trinity Wildcats in the Tetley’s Festive Challenge.
Handley – who made his Super League debut in the defeat at London Broncos last August – scored a stunning nap hand of tries as Rhinos hit back from 12-0 and 18-6 down to win 50-28
They weren’t walk-ins either. He had to work for all five of his touchdowns, though he was given excellent service by Tom Briscoe, playing out of position at left-centre.
Rhinos were more convincing winners than the scoreline suggests, despite Wakefield’s early dominance.
Wildcats’ third try came on 16 minutes and they didn’t add to their tally until five minutes from time, when they scored a couple back-to-back.
Wildcats fielded a stronger starting line-up, in terms of who may figure in the opening game of the new campaign, though they had a couple of 17 year olds, Brad Moules and Harry Swan, on the bench.
Recruits Craig Hall, Jacob Miller, Mickael Simon, Lopini Paea and Matty Ashurst started and Ian Kirke was among the substitutes against his former club.
Simon made a good impact early on. Ashurst also impressed in Wildcats’ opening rampage and Miller – someone with a point to prove in 2015 – showed some nice touches, though Danny Kirmond was named their man of the match.
The opening quarter and last five minutes will give Rhinos coach Brian McDermott something to get agitated about in review, but overall it was a very impressive effort by Rhinos.
There were contributions all round, though Handley was obviously the star turn.
Teenage full-back Ash Golding’s stock is high at the moment. Rhinos under-19s’ player of the year, he was man of the match twice against the touring Australian Schoolboys and signed a four-year contract last week.
He looked a threat with ball in hand and coped well when Wakefield tested him with some high, hanging kicks.
Halves Danny McGuire – who was captain for the day – and Liam Sutcliffe worked particularly well together, but nobody did their cause any harm.
Wakefield were 12-0 up after seven minutes. First Matty Ryan got over at the corner following a nice right-to-left move involving Tim Smith, Miller and Hall, who provided the final pass.
Hall converted from the touchline – for the first of his four goals – and Wakefield doubled their advantage immediately as Ashurst sent Tom Johnstone scorching up the left touchline and Miller was in support to cross unmolested from 40 metres out.
In contrast, the ball was spilled by Richard Owen from the next re-start and in the resulting set Leeds got on the scoreboard through Stevie Ward, after Adam Cuthbertson, who made an eye-catching first appearance , McGuire and Sutcliffe had handled.
Sutcliffe converted, but a knock-on by Cuthbertson gave Wakefield territory for their third try, Danny Washbrook reacting the quickest to Miller’s grubber kick after Paul McShane had been held up on the last.
Andy Yates has had to wait more than a year for his Leeds debut, after signing towards the end of the 2013 season from Hunslet Hawks.
An Achilles injury and then biceps tear – suffered during his comeback game on dual-registration with Hunslet – wiped out last season – so it was a notable moment when he was brought on mid-way through the first half.
He was immediately the victim of a high tackle and from the scrum, Leeds grabbed their second try when a pass by Briscoe was finished well by Handley, McGuire and Golding also having handled.
That was on 22 minutes and Leeds were level four later through McGuire following some astonishing improvised handling. Golding was involved twice, along with Cuthbertson, Jimmy Keinhorst, McGuire, Duckworth – a strong runner, who made a good contribution for Leeds – and Sutcliffe.
McGuire knocked-on with the line open before Leeds went ahead through Handley’s second, again off a pass by Briscoe after neat play by Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Paul Aiton and McGuire.
That edged Leeds ahead and their advantage was increased to 10 points at the break through a clever touchdown.
After treatment to Simon, McGuire chipped through and Briscoe picked up to send Handley in for his hat-trick.
He made it four with the opening try of the second half, 14 minutes in. Again it was a good finish, as he took on his opposite number from Briscoe’s long pass after Cuthbertson, Sutcliffe and McGuire worked the ball left.
And then on the hour it was five. Like the previous tries, this one took some scoring, the winger scooping up a loose ball near his own line and displaying impressive pace to race almost the length of the field.
McGuire was given a well-earned breather in the final quarter, after capping a fine display by kicking through for Sutcliffe to score a deserved touchdown.
And the 50 came up when Golding broke up the middle and showed great awareness to feed the supporting Elliot Minchella.
Leeds eased off at that point and to their credit Wakefield – who obviously have a lot of work to do, particularly on defence – stuck at it to score a late brace of consolations.
Ashurst scored the first and then Pita Godinet went over, after Briscoe had cut across from the other flank to nail Swan.
The crowd was 10,431, the best for a Boxing Day game in five years.
Every year there are complaints about the cost of admission relative to the teams on show, but both sides were named well in advance – giving fans the choice – and the ones who turned up certainly got value for money.
Leeds Rhinos: Golding, Handley, Keinhorst, T Briscoe, Duckworth, Sutcliffe, McGuire, Leuluai, Aiton, Singleton, Jones-Buchanan, S Ward, Cuthbertson. Subs R Ward, Walters, Lilley, Mulhern, Yates, Minchella.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats: Hall, Johnston, Ryan, Washbrook, Owen, Miller, T Smith, Simon, McShane, Paea, Kirmond, Ashurst, D Smith. Subs Riley, Kirke, Annakin, Godinet, Crowther, Jowitt, Moules, Swan, Molloy.
Referee: Ben Thaler.