THERE ARE signs Leeds Rhinos can become a good team, but last night’s 34-16 defeat at Wigan Warriors showed they are still some way from that at the moment.
It is early days, but Leeds have suffered from the same failings in both their Betfred Super League games this season.
As at Warrington Wolves six days earlier Rhinos started well, but fell apart for a 20-minute spell before the break.
This time Leeds twice went in front, but then a couple of things went against them and – once again – they failed to cope with adversity.
Wigan scored a couple of tries in penalty sets, one when the officials missed a knock-on in the build up, so Leeds could feel aggrieved, but they should be more concerned about their inability to defend kicks which led to the hosts’ first three tries.
From 12-6 ahead on 15 minutes, Leeds were 22-12 down by the half-hour. That’s how it remained at the break and Wigan won the second half 12-4.
There were some signs that Leeds have points in them when they get their attack together.Peter Smith
There were some signs that Leeds have points in them when they get their attack together. A couple of times Rhinos did split Wigan’s defence, but the first pass – from Trent Merrin to Jack Walker – was forward and then Tui Lolohea dropped Liam Sutcliffe’s offload.
But for the second successive game they conceded some silly penalties in the opening 40 and could not defend subsequent sets.
Their tackling in the opening stages was ferocious and effective and it had Wigan rattled, but they lost that for a spell as soon as the home team scored.
On the positive side, Nathaniel Peteru carried the ball strongly on his return to the team, in place of Brad Singleton.
He started at prop with Adam Cuthbertson switching to the bench. A substitute last week, Singleton was dropped and is set to play for Featherstone Rovers on dual-registration against Batley Bulldogs tomorrow, along with clubmates Luke Briscoe and Cameron Smith.
The other change was alongside him at hooker where Brad Dwyer started and Matt Parcell was among the substitutes.
Harry Newman warmed up as 18th man. Carl Ablett and Dom Crosby remain on Rhinos’ casualty list, both after ankle surgery.
Wigan – who seem to think gold numbers on a white background are a good idea – fielded the 17 beaten at St Helens in round one.
Brett Ferres, Sutcliffe and Stevie Ward all worked hard in the second-row, but Leeds aren’t playing well enough for long enough as a unit.
They got off to a flier, scoring at the end of their first set. Myler hoisted a kick which Tom Davies dropped straight to Ash Handley who swooped over for his first try of the season, which Lolohea converted.
The lead lasted four minutes. Konrad Hurrell hurled a pass into touch around half-way and at the end of the set from the scrum George Williams kicked to Leeds’ right, Kallum Watkins – who is clearly feeling the effects of his long layoff – didn’t contest it and Dan Sarginson made a simple catch to cruise over. Zak Hardaker’s goal levelled the scores.
When Myler kicked again to Davies, Hurrell was taken out off the ball and Ward almost got over from the penalty.
Leeds received another one on Wigan’s line, tapped it and their adventure was rewarded. Lolohea hurled a long pass to Tom Briscoe who did brilliantly to cut in-field, beat a couple of men and then offload back to the number six and Ferres ran onto his pass at pace for a quality – converted – try which restored Rhinos’ lead.
Myler’s kicks were causing Wigan problems at that stage, but he booted the ball out on the full twice after that.
There was controversy over Wigan’s second try, on 21 minutes. It looked like Liam Farrell had knocked on, but – after a hesitation – referee Ben Thaler allowed play to continue.
Wigan were smart enough not to score on that play, but Thomas Leuluai kicked through on the next – and last – and Ben Flower won the race to touch down, though Hardaker could not add the extras.
Having allowed play to continue past the tackle Thaler could not check the knock-on with his video assistant Robert Hicks, though he did for the grounding which was confirmed.
Thaler was more on the ball when Merrin’s offload sent Walker into a gap, pulling the Leeds man back for a forward pass. Wigan went in front in the resulting set with a similar try to their previous one, Leeds’ right-side defence admiring Williams’ kick as Joe Greenwood ran through to touch down, Hardaker’s kick making it 16-12.
Then Watkins was penalised for a ball steal and Wigan again made the gift count as the impressive Joe Bullock brushed off Walker’s attempted tackle for the hosts’ fourth try and a 10-point lead after Hardaker had tagged on the extras.
Three minutes before the break Lolohea intercepted Leuluai’s pass close to Leeds line. He didn’t have the legs to go the full length of the field and though Rhinos received a penalty, they couldn’t find a way through. That was the difference between the teams, Wigan having been clinical with their attacking opportunities.
Rhinos showed they are capable of strong defensive sets when they held Wigan out from back-to back drop-outs at the start of the second half and then again after a knock-on by Parcell on the second tackle.
Wigan moved 12 points ahead with 18 minutes left when Hardaker took the two after a high shot by Handley on Davies.
Davies had a touchdown ruled out for a knock-on from Leuluai’s kick, but Walker’s mistake put them back under pressure and Williams capped a strong game by scoring in the next set.
Watkins went over for an unconverted try from Lolohea’s pass after Leeds snaffled a short kick-off, but Wigan wrapped things up when Hardaker sent Farrell over and tagged on his fifth goal.
The penalty count was seven-five in Wigan’s favour, (four-three to Wigan in the first half).
An allegation of biting made against a Leeds player was placed on report.
Sydney Roosters – who take on Wigan in the World Club Challenge a week tomorrow – have named former Leeds winger Ryan Hall in their 23-man travelling squad, but he is still recovering from a knee reconstruction and is not expected to play.