Peter Smith's verdict: Leeds Rhinos leave it late to give David Furner a winning start
TWO LATE tries gave new Leeds Rhinos coach David Furner a winning start in a Wetherby Whaler Festive Challenge which Wakefield Trinity controlled for long stages.
Though Leeds shaded it 10-4, both teams could take positives from a pre-season derby which was more competitive and hard-fought than is usually the case on Boxing Day.
Defences were excellent and the low scoreline was due to a combination of that and attacks not yet firing. However, chances were created at both ends and initial indications are these two sides will look to throw the ball around and play an adventurous style.
Trinity introduced recruits Danny Brough, Craig Kopczak and George King in their starting side. All look like good additions and Brough, in particular, will win Trinity some games next season.
His kicking game, still as –good as any in Super League – gives them something they’ve been lacking and Brough’s combination with full-back Ryan Hampshire and stand-off – and new captain – Jacob Miller has exciting potential.
Big forward Pauli Pauli had a strong impact off the bench, playing out wide on the left and looked most likely to force a breaththrough when Trinity were chasing the game late on.
After his time in camp with England, Reece Lyne was lively and Jordan Crowther did well as a substitute. Trinity named 21 players, but discovered shortly before the game only 19 would be allowed to play, so both James Batchelor and Max Jowitt were unused.
Rhinos conceded only one try, off an error, despite being put under sustained pressure. That gives them a solid platform to build from and winning the game was a bonus after the traumas of last season. Rhinos lost a host of matches late on, so to hit back to claim victory in the final quarter – and hold on in the last few minutes – was a confidence-booster.
In Tui Lolohea they have a specialist stand-off, lacking in 2018 and early indications are his half-back combination with Richie Myler will make Leeds a better team. He was involved in both tries and kicked an important conversion from wide out.
Others to catch the eye included Tom Briscoe and Stevie Ward who played the full 80 minutes in a big tackling display. Trialist James Donaldson made a good contribution in defence and Ashton Golding warmed South Stand hearts after coming off the bench.
New number one Jack Walker was excellent at full-back and probably has that position secure for the start of the season, but the left-wing spot is still up for grabs. Luke Briscoe started and did a decent job, then Golding made two crucial try-saving interventions in the closing moments after taking over.
Rhinos showed a willingness to move the ball around in the opening moments and might have scored after three minutes, but Alex Sutcliffe could not take Walker’s low pass after the halves had linked nicely.
Leeds spilled the ball the first three times they got into Trinity’s 20, through Alex Sutcliffe twice and Luke Briscoe. The positive aspect of that was Lolohea getting out wide passes which gave Leeds’ three-quarters some opportunities.
Trinity dominated after the first chance went down. Centre Bill Tupou was Trinity’s star turn last season, securing a deserved place in the Super League Dream team. He went close to scoring after nine minutes after a powerful defensive set had pinned Rhinos near their own line, but Alex Sutcliffe, Lolohea and Tom Briscoe ganged up to barge him into touch before he could get the ball down.
Then Brough’s smart low kick was taken into touch by Luke Briscoe and Trinity got over the line following the scrum, but Nathaniel Peteru produced a fine try-saving tackle to shove him back into play.
Walker, assisted by Alex Sutcliffe, got under Joe Arundel to prevent him getting the ball down over the line, but having defended very well for half an hour, Rhinos handed Wakefield their opening try through an error when Donaldson lost the ball and Jacob Miller reacted quickly to send Tupou over.
Rhinos thought they had hit back on the stroke of half-time when Myler cut through, but referee Robert Hicks decided it was an obstruction. After that a brilliant run by Lyne set up Tupou at the other end, but Leeds’ defence held him up over the line.
Trinity were playing with 12 men at that stage, Tyler Randell having been sin-binned for a high tackle on Luke Briscoe. At the start of the second half Crowther’s desperate tackle kept Brad Dwyer out after a strong, defence-splitting run and Tom Briscoe touched down from Lolohea’s kick, but was penalised for offside. Rhinos were marched 10 metres for dissent and Miller dashed clear from the tap, but Walker ran him down, which was a sensational effort, then was yellow carded for holding down.
Moments later Tupou got over Rhinos’ line, but Miller’s pass was ruled forward. That would probably have won it if given, but Leeds levelled with 18 minutes left when Lolohea’s kick was taken on the bounce by Tom Briscoe.
Eight minutes later Ash Handley finished well off quick hands by Lolohea and Myler and the conversion completed the scoring. Trinity did have two late chances but Golding tackled Ben Jones-Bishop into touch just short before scrambling Lyne’s kick dead in goal.
The line-ups were stronger than is usual on Boxing Day, with Tom Johnstone, Craig Huby and Anthony England being the only big names missing for Trinity.
Rhinos were without marquee signings Konrad Hurrell and Trent Merrin, plus Kallum Watkins, Carl Ablett, Brett Ferres, Brad Singleton and Dom Crosby from their likely first-choice 17.
Too many penalties marred an otherwise entertaining game. The final count was 12-11 in Trinity’s favour.
A crowd of 10,139 turned up for the official opening of Emerald Headingley’s impressive new South Stand. Rhinos are masters at making an occasion of events like that and the pre-match parade of club legends was a nice touch.
The only mis-step off the field was the annoying playing of music over the public address at stoppages in play. The crowd made their views known with boos and chants of “turn it off”, which the club – to their credit – did midway through the first half.
Leeds Rhinos: Walker, T Briscoe, A Sutcliffe, Handley, L Briscoe, Lolohea, Myler, Cuthbertson, Parcell, Peteru, L Sutcliffe, Ward, Smith. Subs: Dwyer, Mullally, Oledzki, Jones-Buchanan, Golding, Donaldson.
Wakefield Trinity: Hampshire, Jones-Bishop, Lyne, Arundel, Tupou, Miller, Brough, Kopczak, Wood, Arona, Ashurst, Kirmond, King. Used subs: Annakin, Fifita, Crowther, Kershaw, Pauli, Randell. Unused: Batchelor, Jowitt.
Referee: Robert Hicks (Oldham).