Leeds Rhinos: Wakefield Wildcats tangled by magic of Webb

Full-back Brent Webb was the star of the show as Leeds Rhinos began the new Brian McDermott era with an impressive 40-22 pre-season win over Wakefield Trinity Wildcats.

With Danny McGuire on the long-term casualty list, Webb will carry extra attacking responsibility in the early stages of the season and he stepped up to the mark from the off.

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The Kiwi Test ace scored one try – dashing on to Kevin Sinfield's clever kick – provided the final pass for two more, handled in the build-up to another and was off the field when Wildcats rallied at the end.

From a Wakefield point of view, the game was a mixed bag. Overall they were out-classed and – early on especially – their error count was far too high, but credibility was restored in a strong final quarter which yielded three unanswered tries.

At times last season Wildcats seemed to give up in matches once the opposition got on top. That certainly wasn't the case in this opening trial game.

Trailing 28-6 at the break and 40-6 after an hour, they were on a hiding, but their spirited finale will have given coach John Kear something to build on.

Prop Michael Korkidas – now one of the experienced heads in a youthful side – scored their opening try, blasting past Carl Ablett from Ben Jeffries' pass.

Korkidas had a strong game and he was well supported by young forward signings Paul Johnson and Stuart Howarth.

Dale Ferguson – the newly-crowned Scotland player of the year – also put himself about and though there was a lack of cohesion on attack, that's understandable at this early stage and with seven new faces in the team.

For Rhinos, the final 20 minutes was a disappointment, but the opening hour was highly encouraging. McDermott seems to be promoting a free-flowing brand of rugby, with plenty of runners and ball movement.

Leeds scored seven tries, several of them high-quality efforts and there were some eye-catching individual performances.

Webb is an established star, as are Kevin Sinfield and Rob Burrow who had good games at half-back and Ablett, who shone in the pack.

But some of Leeds' up-and-comers were equally impressive. It was centre Kallum Watkins' first 13-a-side game since he ruptured knee ligaments in an engage Super League defeat at Huddersfield last March.

Word from the camp is that Watkins has been "ripping it up" in training

and he proved a handful for the Wildcats' defence.

He isn't the finished article, but Watkins has size, power, footwork and pace and he can slip out a clever pass – all that on a pitch narrowed for the preceding rugby union game.

His combination with Ben Jones-Bishop – back from a career-enhancing season on loan at Harlequins – is one to watch.

Aussie prop Ben Cross made a solid first appearance, producing one big hit and taking the ball up strongly.

Young winger Zak Hardaker – who will spend this season back on loan at his former club Featherstone Rovers – got limited game time, but was enthusiastic and didn't look out of place.

England academy forward Jarred Stewart will benefit from his first experience of the big time and pacy fellow academy product Liam Hood did well at hooker in spells off the bench.

Rhinos had hoped to give Kiwi signing Weller Hauraki a first run out, but he is still awaiting visa clearance, though the club insist that is a delay rather than a problem.

Both teams suffered injury concerns. Rhinos back-rower Jamie Jones-Buchanan had to be helped off in the first half after taking a bang to a knee in a tackle.

That looked serious at the time, but he was up and about after the match, though limping heavily.

Wildcats outside-back Aaron Murphy was another casualty, suffering a suspected fractured thumb.

Leeds prop Luke Burgess celebrated his first appearance since suffering a broken jaw last August by taking Ablett's pass to crash over for the opening try after just four minutes. Sinfield kicked the first of his six conversions for the Rhinos.

Referee Jamie Leahy sensibly let the game flow, but produced a mandatory yellow card for Ian Kirke following a late challenge on Ben Jeffries after a kick.

Korkidas scored immediately afterwards off a pass by Jeffries, who also converted, but Leeds missed two chances while Kirke was sitting on the naughty step – Ali Lauitiiti being held up and Jones-Buchanan stepping in touch in goal – and scored soon after his return.

Lee Smith bounced over at the corner after good handling by Paul McShane, Sinfield, Webb and Brett Delaney and then went in again from Webb's long pass.

Next, Burrow took Webb's pass and dummied over in superb style and from the kick-off, Smith, Ablett, Sinfield, Burrow and Watkins worked the ball to Jones-Bishop, who crossed out wide to complete a truly sensational move.

Webb scored at the start of the second period and Sinfield finished off good work by McShane and Lauitiiti before Wildcats' rally.

Gareth Potts reacted quickly to touch down Jeffries' grubber after it was missed by a team-mate, Ferguson stepped through and then Kieran Hyde intercepted a Sinfield pass to race clear, Josh Veivers converting the final two tries.

The Headingley pitch held up well despite two matches on one afternoon and both clubs – and the Sick Children's Trust – will have been delighted with what was an impressive 12,000-plus crowd.

LEEDS RHINOS: Webb, Smith, Delaney, Watkins, Jones-Bishop, Sinfield, Burrow, Burgess, McShane, Kirke, Jones-Buchanan, Lauitiiti, Ablett. Subs (all used) Cross, Pitts, Stewart, Coady, Hood, Hardaker.

WAKEFIELD TRINITY WILDCATS: Blaymire, Penny, Dean, Murphy, Potts, Jeffries, Wildie, Johnson, Lee, Korkidas, Henderson, Ferguson, Howarth. Subs (all used) Veivers, Davey, Hyde, Spiers, Tony, King.

REFEREE: Jamie Leahy (Dewsbury).


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