A CAPTAIN’S knock from Kallum Watkins spurred Leeds Rhinos to a thrilling 28-26 derby win at luckless Wakefield Trinity.
It was Trinity’s fifth successive defeat, but for much of the game they looked on course to break their losing streak.
Wakefield led 12-6 at half-time and when they went eight points ahead with 25 minutes left the game was theirs to lose.
Ryan Hampshire had started at scrum-half for Trinity, in place of Liam Finn who has a broken finger, and kicked four goals from as many attempts, at that stage, in an impressive display. Leeds were also without a first-choice half-back, Joel Moon having been ruled out due to illness and had coped less well. Liam Sutcliffe returned after five games out due to a foot injury, but struggled to make an impact and was replaced when Rhinos went eight points behind.
Carl Ablett took more of a playmaking role and he was influential as Rhinos turned the game on its head.
Watkins also made a big contribution, scoring his second try of the game and Brad Dwyer gave Leeds some momentum when he came off the bench.
The visitors went 28-20 up with three minutes left, thanks to a second touchdown in as many games from the impressive Josh Walters, but Trinity pulled a converted try back and threatened to snatch it in the final seconds.
Trinity deservedly led 12-6 at the break, despite Leeds having scored first.
Their pacy outside-backs had Leeds backpedalling and Rhinos struggled to cope with the hosts’ offloads.
Leeds also looked vulnerable close to the line, conceding twice from a few metres out. On attack they made several errors in good field position and struggled to go forward against a resolute defence.
Trinity’s half-time advantage wasn’t a shock. In recent games they have made a habit of starting well and fading after the break, whereas Leeds have tended to go behind early on and then claw their way back.
It was the same story this time, but the positive for Trinity is they haven’t been far away in any of their defeats and they have enough quality to turn things around. All they need is the next win.
Trinity produced a lovely handling move in the opening five minutes, Max Jowitt and Hampshire cutting through before Ashurst flicked a pass to Tyler Randell, who could not hold on.
That was a warning for Leeds and they had another when Richie Myler chipped to Leeds’ right, but Tom Johnstone made a terrific catch, broke clear and supplied Bill Tupou, who in turn passed on to Jacob Miller, but Leeds managed to scramble back to snuff out the danger.
A strong run by Ryan Hall set up Rhinos’ first real attack. They forced a drop out and on the final tackle from that Myler grubbered between the posts and Watkins touched down at full-stretch before tagging on the conversion, after 16 minutes.
He kicked four goals from five attempts, three off the touchline and Trinity’s defence struggled to cope when he ran with the ball.
Trinity were level four minutes into the second quarter through Miller, who had a terrific first half, but faded after the break.
He opened the hosts’ scoring, stepping through from close to the line after Myler had made an outstanding tackle on Ashurst, but was penalised for holding down.
Watkins’ pass behind Tom Briscoe into touch wasted an opportunity moments later and Trinity deservedly went ahead nine minutes before the break when Kyle Wood, who had just come on, threw a dummy and jinked over from acting-half.
Hall had a touchdown ruled out for a ball steal by Ash Handley soon afterwards, then Myler’s kick hit the crossbar and rebounded to Jamie Jones-Buchanan. He worked it to Watkins and Briscoe took the final pass, but Johnstone and Tupou crashed him into touch.
Rhinos pulled level seven minutes after the interval, when Trinity’s defence backed off a strong run by Handley, who managed to touch down through Jowitt’s attempted tackle.
That was his eighth try in five games and Watkins converted from close to the touchline, but parity was shortlived.
Hampshire booted a penalty for interference by Stevie Ward on Tupou and at the end of the next set the scrum-half hoisted a huge kick which bounced away from Golding, and Ashurst backed up to gather and power over.
The conversion opened a two-score gap, but Leeds rallied strongly as Trinity lost their way. They pulled a try back with 18 minutes left, when Watkins finished strongly from Ablett’s pass after a fine run on the other flank by Handley.
That was unconverted, but Rhinos were in front three minutes later. Golding’s run got them on the front foot and at the end of the set Myler flighted a lovely kick between the posts and prop Brad Singleton collected over the line to score a try which Watkins improved.
Leeds now led by two with 13 minutes left. They seemed to have sealed it in the 77th minute when Myler went close, then Watkins stabbed a kick through close to the line and Walters did well to pick up and touch down.
Crucially, Watkins’ goal – from a difficult angle – opened a two-score gap. Jowitt, who had a good game, pulled a try back – converted by Hampshire – after Leeds needlessly turned the ball over near their own line with two minutes remaining.
In the final seconds Reece Lyne made a break, beating Handley and Hall, but Walters got back to drag him down. Trinity moved the ball left and Leeds’ defence numbered up to make the final tackle as the hooter sounded.
The penalty count finished five-four in Leeds’ favour, after being three-three at half-time.
As well as Finn, Trinity were without front-rowers David Fifita and Anthony England, both due to a groin injury.
Wingers Ben Jones-Bishop and Johnstone returned and captain Danny Kirmond was back on the bench.
Mason Caton-Brown, Joe Arundel and former Leeds prop Jordan Baldwinson dropped out from Easter Monday’s team, but Jowitt kept his place at full-back, at the expense of Scott Grix.
Brett Delaney (hamstring) dropped out from the Leeds team which beat Salford six days earlier, so Jamie Jones-Buchanan was recalled, at prop – and played the full game.
Anthony Mullally was available after suffering concussion on Good Friday at Huddersfield, as was Jimmy Keinhorst following his long-term knee injury, but neither was selected.
Mitch Garbutt was among the crowd after undergoing knee surgery last week. He is likely to be out of action for 10 weeks. Also watching from the stands were fellow front-rowers Adam Cuthbertson (broken hand) and Nathaniel Peteru (biceps), but both are aiming to make a comeback this month.
Leeds’ other absentee, through injury, was full-back Jack Walker (ankle). Ashton Golding was outstanding at the back.