PATCHED-UP Leeds Rhinos played well for 20 minutes at Belle Vue yesterday, which was long enough to pile more misery on Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.
When Pita Godinet went over for Wakefield’s second try, on 35 minutes, Leeds’ advantage was cut to just eight points and a shock was – if not exactly on the cards – at least a possibility.
But Rhinos added a fourth try before the interval and then touched down seven times in a blistering third quarter, taking the score out to 58-10, ensuring Wakefield would suffer a 14th straight Super League defeat.
It was job done by the visitors, who regained top spot in the table after being pushed down to second place briefly by St Helens.
From the start Rhinos looked well aware they have a huge game, at home to Castleford Tigers, in three days’ time and they played well within themselves.
When they did step on the gas it was far too easy as Wakefield’s defence, which was relatively solid in the opening period, collapsed.
Having established their big lead, Rhinos stopped playing and allowed Wakefield to grab three consolation tries, thanks largely to Godinet suddenly taking the game to the visitors.
The way they were opened up in the final 10 minutes removed some of the gloss from Rhinos’ afternoon, but considering their injuries, they could feel reasonably satisfied with a 58-26 success, though the chance to really boost their points difference was missed.
Rhinos actually fielded a stronger team than might have been expected, given their absentees.
Zak Hardaker (ankle), Brett Delaney (hamstring), Jamie Jones-Buchanan (hamstring) and Mitch Achurch (wrist) were all sidelined due to injury and Joel Moon served a one-game suspension.
Liam Sutcliffe returned to the side and added full-back to his list of roles and Josh Walters and Andy Yates were recalled on the bench, alongside 18-year-old half-back Jordan Lilley, who made his debut when he came on after 61 minutes.
Jimmy Keinhorst was back in the centres and Rob Burrow got a start at scrum-half, with Kevin Sinfield switching to loose-forward in his 440th Super League appearance, which is a competition record.
By the time Wakefield enjoyed their late spree, Leeds coach Brian McDermott had taken the opportunity to rest some of his key men ahead of Thursday’s game.
Stuart Dickens, in his final game as Wakefield’s caretaker-coach before Brian Smith takes over today, also rung the changes. Reece Lyne (hamstring) and Scott Anderson (concussion) were missing from the previous week’s team, along with Dean Collis, Jacob Miller and Jon Molloy.
Stuart Howarth – signed from Hull in mid-week – came straight in at hooker and Craig Hall, Joe Arundel, Ben Kavanagh and Chris Annakin were recalled.
Sutcliffe scored his first senior hat-trick and was the pick for Leeds. Burrow also had a lively game and Brad Singleton was too strong for Wakefield’s defence when he came off the bench, but Rhinos were sloppy at times and only got out of second gear in that remarkable third quarter.
They failed to complete either of their first two sets, Sinfield knocking-on and then Paul Aiton’s pass to Adam Cuthbertson drifting forward.
Wildcats took their second opportunity, Tim Smith’s cross kick being easily gathered, under no real pressure, by young winger Tom Johnstone.
Craig Hall converted, but Leeds were level on 10 minutes when Sutcliffe went over from Aiton’s pass and Sinfield landed the first of five conversions, from seven attempts. Wakefield’s more spirited – compared with recent games – defensive effort was typified by Arundel’s superb try-saving effort, which forced the ball loose from Cuthbertson on the line.
Keinhorst, in the full-back position, made a terrific tackle on Tim Smith after he had jinked into space before Johnstone – who is a terrific finisher, but sometimes shaky in defence – did really well to keep Ryan Hall out.
On 25 minutes, McGuire twisted over from acting half for his 250th Leeds try and in the set off the restart, McGuire sent Kallum Watkins away, he drew the cover and Burrow was in support to go over.
Wakefield got back into the game with a stunning try five minutes before the interval when Johnstone hit space, drew Sutcliffe – who made a decent stop – and got an offload away to Godinet, who scorched over too wide out for Craig Hall to convert.
A gap of eight points would have been a fair reflection of Wildcats’ effort, but Danny Kirmond conceded a penalty for holding down just before the interval and Carl Ablett forced his way over in the resulting set, after Burrow and McGuire had handled. Trailing 24-10 at the turnaround, Wakefield could still have made it a tough afternoon for Rhinos had they scored first after half-time.
Instead, Leeds crossed three times in the first 10 minutes of the period to make the game safe.
Four minutes after the resumption Keinhorst made a break and though he couldn’t get the ball away to Walters, in support, McGuire grubbered to the corner and Ash Handley got the ball down in acrobatic fashion.
Four minutes later, Leeds worked the blindside from inside their own half, McGuire and Watkins supplied Ablett, who found himself on the right wing and he stomped away before turning the ball inside to put the supporting Sutcliffe over.
Then, McGuire’s long ball found Keinhorst, he grubbered ahead, Trinity’s Johnstone and Craig Hall collided and the centre regathered to touch down.
Handley added his second try, from Sutcliffe’s pass, on 55 minutes.
Then Sutcliffe sent Burrow away, Wakefield couldn’t halt the pocket rocket and Sutcliffe was in support to cross between the posts and boot the first of two conversions.
Brad Singleton then scored back-to-back tries, the first summing up Wakefield’s topsy-turvey afternoon.
Tim Smith intercepted a pass to halt a Leeds attack, then immediately chucked the ball back to Rhinos – substitute Singleton going over from close-range and then adding another in the next set.
That completed Leeds’ scoring and at least Wakefield managed to regain some pride in the final 10 minutes as Godinet created tries for Kirmond and Nick Scruton and Johnstone also crossed, Godinet kicking a couple of conversions.
Referee Joe Cobb, who has joined the full-time list, had a good game. The penalty count was 6-4 in Leeds’ favour (4-1 in the first half).