A LAST-GASP try Richard Owen condemned Leeds Rhinos to a 16-14 defeat and continued Wakefield Trinity Wildcats’ remarkable revival under coach James Webster.
It was Wakefield’s fourth game unbeaten – and their third win – since Webster took over from Richard Agar a month ago and their victims have included Wigan Warriors and Leeds.
But under-strength Rhinos were unfortunate not to win as they were involved in late drama for the third time in four games.
On this occasion they were two points ahead when Danny McGuire had a touchdown ruled out by the video referees and Wakefield scored their winning touchdown in the next set.
Five days earlier Leeds had beaten Catalan Dragons with a penalty goal after the hooter and in their previous home match a controversial video referee decision – to disallow a Tom Briscoe touchdown also after the 80 was up – secured a two-point win for Huddersfield Giants.
Leeds showed plenty of character and their defence was strong, though they made too many errors, particularly in the first half and there were a couple of awful mix-ups on the final tackle late in the game, when they held a two-point lead.
The result – fourth from bottom beating second-top – will be considered a shock, though Wakefield must have fancied their chances when they saw Rhinos’ teamsheet.
Leeds were missing nine senior players, while Wakefield had three on the sidelines who would have been in the team if available.
Being named 18th man seems to be the best way of guaranteeing getting a game for Rhinos this season.
Yet again there was a late change, as Kevin Sinfield – who had been due to return from a back injury – suffered a recurrence and had to withdraw, after the teamsheet had been handed in.
Liam Sutcliffe moved from the pack to stand-off and Josh Walters, who had been named as a substitute, stepped up to make his first senior start, at loose-forward.
Nineteen-year-old Robbie Mulhern, originally travelling reserve, came on to the bench alongside Brad Singleton (aged 21), Elliot Minchella (18) and Robbie Ward (18) – an average age of 19 and surely one of the youngest set of substitutes ever fielded by Leeds.
Minchella, Robbie Ward and Mulhern came into the team with injured duo Carl Ablett and Mitch Achurch dropping out from the side which beat Catalan Dragons last week, along with Luke Briscoe.
For Wakefield, Jimmy Keinhorst came in to make the third – and first since March – appearance of his year-long spell on loan from Leeds – and Andy Raleigh was also recalled.
Danny Kirmond was ruled out due to an ankle injury, expected to keep him sidelined for a couple of weeks and Scott Anderson was the other absentee from last Sunday’s team against Hull.
Rhinos were obviously lacking in size, particularly when Jamie Peacock was spelled early in the second half and replaced by Minchella, with Ryan Bailey already off the field.
That said, the visitors fielded seven players with full international experience to Wakefield’s three, which discounts Keinhorst, who has played for Germany.
Wakefield’s Chris Riley got over the line after seven minutes, but video referees Ian Smith and Phil Bentham spotted Reece Lyne’s foot in touch – shoved there by Ben Jones-Bishop, Tom Briscoe and Kallum Watkins.
Referee Matt Thomason – in charge of a Leeds game for the first time – had to ask for help when Tim Smith kicked through on 15 minutes.
Danny Washbrook seemed not to have touched down cleanly under pressure from Jones-Bishop, but the video duo gave the green light this time and Paul Sykes’ conversion made it 6-0.
Leeds got on the board after 32 minutes, after Wakefield were pinned back by three penalties, the third of those coming on the home line after Owen had dropped a high kick.
Sutcliffe’s pass picked out Kallum Watkins and he finished with some style, though the try was unconverted.
Rhinos had been poor up to that point, making a series of errors, some of them very basic, so their interval lead was a surprise.
Two minutes before the break Briscoe fielded Tim Smith’s kick close to the Leeds line. he came infield and found Jones-Bishop, who produced some magic completely out of keeping with the game so far.
The full-back beat four defenders on a weaving run before finding open space and the right flank and easily out-pacing the cover, though again Sutcliffe could not add the goal. A try like that was wasted in such a poor game.
It took Wakefield until the 52nd minute to regain the lead, following back-to-back penalties, when Richard Mathers – a Grand Final winner with Rhinos a decade ago – crossed from Sykes’ pass after Tim Smith had also handled.
Sykes added the conversion, but Leeds almost got level with 17 left when Minchella stretched for the line, but lost the ball in Lee Gilmour’s tackle.
With 12 left Leeds hit the front, following a couple of penalties which lifted the pressure Wakefield had been starting to build.
Stand-in captain Danny McGuire’s kick on the last was taken by Ryan Hall and he got above Wakefield’s left-side defence to make a good catch and touch down, Sutcliffe this time turning four into six.
Leeds had a chance to win it with four minutes left when McGuire snapped up a loose ball and went 60 metres, but the video referees ruled Hall had knocked on as Pita Godinet tried to offload, though he hadn’t played at the ball.
That proved crucial as Wakefield scored in the set from the penalty to win it, Tim Smith and Mathers linking to put Owen over at the corner.
That was harsh on Rhinos, who deserved at least a draw and would have had more than that but for the video decisions which went against them.
The penalty count finished six-five to Rhinos (three-two in Leeds’ favour in the first half) and Thomason had a good game.
Before the game Wakefield announced they have signed utility-back Craig Hall from Hull KR on a two-year contract beginning next season.