Analysis - young English players catch the eye as Leeds Rhinos pip Wakefield Trinity in thrilling Super League derby
Sometimes it's difficult to be upbeat about English rugby league, given all the politics and in-fighting, lack of money and inability - perhaps unwillingness - to expand beyond traditional boundaries.
But then a player like Jack Broadbent grabs a first team chance or Tom Johnstone again underlines his credentials as one of the best finishers in the world game and suddenly the outlook seems brighter.
After a four-month off-season and with only one practice game each, Wakefield Trinity and Leeds Rhinos combined to produce a much better spectacle than could have been predicted in Betfred Super League round one.
Though Leeds - officially the away team at Emerald Headingley - narrowly came out on top, 28-22, the performance of the match came from Trinity left-winger Johnstone who scored two spellbinding long-range tries.
Rhinos coach Richard Agar wasn’t happy with his team’s defence for either, but sometimes you just have to tip your hat to individual brilliance.
For his first, Johnstone took a pass from Jacob Miller deep in Trinity territory, toyed with opposite number Tom Briscoe and then beat Richie Myler’s last-ditch tackle.
Then, the England hopeful - a product of Leeds club Stanningley - read Luke Gale’s last-tackle kick to perfection, made the catch and again showed Leeds’ defence a clean pair of heels.
Trinity’s three-quarters will have been rubbing their hands together in anticipation when Rhinos’ teamsheet came in.
Without Harry Newman and Ash Handley - and with Liam Sutcliffe in the halves - Leeds had 20-year-old Broadbent, making his fourth senior appearance - and Alex Sutcliffe, 21, already a Challenge Cup winner but with only 12 previous first team games to his name, in the centres, against former Dream Team pick Bill Tupou and England contender Reece Lyne.
After Luke Briscoe, on Leeds’ left-wing, had opened the scoring, Trinity began to run riot out wide with Johnstone, their other wing Innes Senior and then Matty Ashurst - through the middle - running in tries to make it 16-4.
It looked like being a long afternoon for Leeds, but both Broadbent and Alex Sutcliffe stepped up to prove their Super League worth.
Broadbent’s strong run lifted Leeds and led to his fellow centres’ touchdown which got them back into the game.
It was Broadbent who scored the second half try his first at senior level, which proved the winner, though just as important was his interception - knocking the ball in the air and hanging on - from a pass by Miller which would almost certainly have led to an equalising touchdown.
Both Leeds’ youngsters were caught out at times defensively, but they justified Agar’s selection decision and when Newman and Hurrell are fit - and Liam Sutcliffe switches from the halves - Leeds’ backline will look strong.
They were without five of their seven first-choice backs, based on squad numbers, so this was a credible performance and win and they obviously have some strike power.
Rhinos will expect to get better when the missing players return, new play-maker Kyle Eastmond is ready to make his debut and the likes of Luke Gale and Zane Tetevano have more time on the training and playing field.
Gale missed most of pre-season due to a pectoral muscle injury and that showed, though he had some high-quality moments.
Tetevano, Rhinos’ debutant, has also had only limited time in training, but ran strongly, especially in his second spell and will obviously develop as he gets used to his new surroundings.
Matt Prior was another late arrival, but that didn’t show; he was very good and, as is the norm, Brad Dwyer made a difference off the bench.
Leeds’ substitutes as a unit all had an impact and Leeds were worthy winners, but Trinity kept it tense until the final seconds and were impressive during the 11-minute spell when they went 12 points ahead.
Miller made a good start and will clearly benefit from having Mason Lino alongside him to take some of the play-making responsibilities.
Lino is Wakefield’s only new signing and on this evidence will be a quality addition with more time to work on combinations.
Trinity were missing five first-choice players, mostly in the forwards so they could also feel encouraged by their performance in what was an end-to-end, thriller of a derby.
They will also be aggrieved at conceding four set restarts and receiving none. The four penalties were shared, each team having one per half and referee Scott Mikalauskas deserves credit for letting the game flow.
After Alex Sutcliffe’s try got Leeds back in it, Dwyer went over from acting-half in the set after he had been tackled high by Miller and Richie Myler - who was terrific at full-back - crossed from Gale’s pass following Prior’s ball steal on Chris Green.
Three Rhyse Martin conversions made it 22-16 at the interval, but Lino’s third goal, after Johnstone had completed his brace, squared things.
Trinity had a great chance when Tupou got away from Broadbent, but Myler knocked the pass down and Martin completed the scoring with a penalty four minutes from time.
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