LEEDS RHINOS signalled their intent with a ruthless 60-6 thrashing of Wakefield Trinity Wildcats at Rapid Solicitors Stadium yesterday.
The Tetley’s Challenge Cup is the only trophy to have evaded Rhinos’ golden generation and with time running out they are desperate to get their hands on what is becoming their Holy Grail.
A home draw against St Helens in the next round means Rhinos will have to do it tough on the road to Wembley, yet again, but their 11-try rout of Wildcats was an impressive start.
Though they tried hard and offered some opposition in the first and third quarters, Wakefield were never in the game.
They dropped off far too many tackles and made some errors, particularly on early plays, which gave them little chance to attack what was a strong Leeds defence and meant they were under almost constant pressure.
Rhinos scored five tries in 13 first-half minutes to put the game in their pocket and there was no way back for Wakefield from a 32-6 interval deficit.
The hosts were hanging on more or less from the start and it was a surprise it took Leeds 18 minutes to get off the mark.
Rhinos had a touchdown ruled out after just four minutes. Danny McGuire made the first break of the game, chipped through and was taken out by full-back Richard Mathers.
Rhinos tapped the penalty in front of the post and on the final tackle McGuire’s kick went loose and Joel Moon touched it down, but referee James Child reckoned Zak Hardaker had knocked on.
Moon was back in Rhinos’ left-centre after missing two games due to a hamstring injury. With Jamie Jones-Buchanan recovering from surgery on a biceps, Ian Kirke stepped up off the bench into the loose-forward slot, though playing as an extra prop.
Stevie Ward, who was replaced by Moon in the starting line-up, dropped to a bench which included Liam Sutcliffe following his return from a month’s loan at Bradford Bulls and Ryan Bailey, who had played on dual-registration at Hunslet Hawks the previous week.
Mitch Achurch also returned among the substitutes after a head injury and Chris Clarkson and Ben Jones-Bishop dropped out of the 17.
Ex-Leeds trio Mathers, Richard Moore – playing his first game of the season after hamstring and calf injuries – and substitute Daniel Smith were all back in Wildcats’ 17.
Andy Raleigh and Harry Siejka were the players to make way, along with on-loan Warrington winger Chris Riley.
Leeds did all the early pressing, other than following a knock-on by Brett Delaney, which was wasted when Wildcats were penalised for crossing on the first tackle.
The visitors created a second clear chance on 11 minutes as Rob Burrow kicked from acting-half early in the count, but Tom Briscoe knocked on a few metres out.
Then Burrow’s run created an overlap and he supplied Kallum Watkins, but the centre’s pass found touch rather than his winger.
Rhinos played some electrifying rugby at times, including a dazzling passage of play including close to 20 passes in the opposition 20, which Wakefield somehow scrambled to keep out.
But the opening try came via a more direct route, Burrow – who already had Wildcats on the back foot – darting over from acting-half 20 metres out. Sinfield added the extras, but from Jarrod Sammut’s re-start Ryan Hall – making his 200th Leeds appearance – slipped and the ball went dead to concede a drop out, only for Nick Scruton to knock-on on the first tackle.
Rhinos did a bit better on 22 when Sinfield’s kick forced a drop out and in the resulting set the skipper slipped out a fine offload which gave Carl Ablett a walk-in.
Moments later Burrow put in a superb kick to Wildcats’ right and the bounce deceived Fox, allowing Moon to pick and flick on to McGuire, who galloped over.
Paul Sykes kicked his re-start out on the full and from the subsequent penalty, Bailey and Jamie Peacock squeezed out offloads to keep the ball alive before Burrow’s long pass allowed Hall to stroll over.
Unbelievably, Sykes kicked the re-start dead and Leeds took advantage to score their fifth try, Ablett crossing on the last from Sinfield’s pass.
Wakefield’s lone try came in eye-catching style six minutes before the break when Pita Godinet threw a couple of dummies and zipped in for a lovely solo score, improved by Sammut.
The hosts looked like grabbing a lifeline when Godinet nipped towards the Rhinos line, but tried to offload and Zak Hardaker snapped up the loose ball.
It was a costly mistake as Ablett steamed up the middle and Hall was in support to cross on the stroke of half-time, Sinfield’s fourth goal coming after the hooter.
Six minutes into the second half Wildcats skipper Danny Kirmond put in a huge hit on Sinfield, but was then left flat out as the Leeds captain combined with Hardaker to send Achurch galloping over.
And four minutes later Achurch and Sinfield were involved in the build-up as Sutcliffe – brought on in place of McGuire at the start of the second period – marked his return to the club with a try. Sinfield converted both to make it 44-6.
Wakefield, to their credit, dug in after that and showed a bit of pride, though it was far too late.
Only a superb tackle by Ablett kept Moore out and at the other end Sykes redeemed himself slightly with a try-saver on Briscoe.
The winger, though, got the scoreboard ticking again with 10 to go when he intercepted Ali Lauitiiti’s pass to cruise over unopposed.
And then Burrow capped a brilliant game by grabbing his second, thanks to a clever show and go, from Peacock’s pass.
Even then the agony wasn’t quite over for Wakefield.
Sinfield’s chip was read brilliantly by Moon, who gathered to go over for Leeds’ 11th try.
Sinfield completed the scoring with his eighth conversion of this one-sided game.
The penalty count finished 5-3 in Leeds’ favour (4-2 in in the first half). Referee James Child has copped some criticism this season, but he did a good job on this occasion.
Wakefield trinity wildcats: Mathers, Fox, Collis, Sykes, Lyne, Sammut, Godinet, Anderson, McShane, Moore, Lauitiiti, Kirmond, Washbrook. Subs (all used) Smith, Tautai, Scruton, Ryan.
Leeds rhinos: Hardaker, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, McGuire, Sinfield, Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Delaney, Ablett, Kirke. Subs (all used) Ward, Bailey, Achurch, Singleton.
Referee: James Child (Batley).