Wakefield Trinity 18 Leeds Rhinos 34: Rhinos in pink as Ash Handley’s hat-trick crowns first win of the season

LEEDS RHINOS were in the pink last night as their vivid new away kit brought about an immediate change of fortune at Wakefield Trinity’s expense.

By Peter Smith
Thursday, 3rd March 2022, 11:17 pm
Wakefield Trinity v Leeds Rhinos.
Rhinos Ash Handley scores his first try.
3rd March 2022.
Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe
Wakefield Trinity v Leeds Rhinos. Rhinos Ash Handley scores his first try. 3rd March 2022. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

Boosted by the return of three influential players, Rhinos were too strong for a weakened Trinity line-up, getting off the mark with a 34-18 win after leading 30-0 at half-time.

Leeds were too classy in the opening period, when they cut Trinity open at will, but the hosts showed some impressive resolve after the break.

It would have been easy to throw in the towel, but they dug in and managed to out-score Leeds 18-4 in the second period.

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Wakefield Trinity v Leeds Rhinos. Rhinos David Fusitua takes on Trinity's James Batchelor. 3rd March 2022. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

In front of a crowd of 5,040, it was a good night for Rhinos’ right winger Ash Handley who scored a hat-trick of tries, just two days after being left out of the England training squad.

The outcome was more comprehensive than the scoreline suggests, two of Trinity’s tries coming in the last three minutes and the game effectively being over as a contest at the break.

It left Wakefield without a win four rounds into the Betfred Super League season, but they were up against it from the start. With all their specialist centres unavailable – and one of their first-choice wingers – they had to field two second-rowers and a debutant in the three-quarters.

Then things got worse three minutes into the game, immediately after Rhinos’ try, when stand-off and captain Jacob Miller went off with a head injury, reducing them to 16 available players for the rest of the match and ruling him out of their next one.

Wakefield Trinity v Leeds Rhinos. Rhinos Jack Walker is tackled by Trinity's Jay Pitts. 3rd March 2022. Picture : Jonathan Gawthorpe

Leeds, naturally, attacked Trinity’s weakness; four of their first-half tries were scored out wide and the fifth came from a winger who cut infield.

There’s no doubt Rhinos missed Richie Myler in their first three games. After spending the whole of last season on the sidelines, Jack Walker went well at full-back in round one, but – understandably – found the going tough after that.

He was at the heart of Leeds’ devastating first-half attacking display, returning the ball strongly and linking into the line. Adding three players of the quality of David Fusitu’a, Harry Newman and Rhyse Martin would make most players better and it certainly did the job for Leeds, the three combining to great effect on the right-side.

Newman regularly beat the first man and looked really sharp, in his comeback from the hamstring injury suffered in Tom Briscoe’s testimonial at the end of January, but was hurt in a tackle soon after half-time and went straight off.

That is a concern for Rhinos going forward, though they had Tom Briscoe on the bench as a straight replacement last night.

Crucially the half-backs Blake Austin – who went off in the final few minutes – and Aidan Sezer made sure Leeds’ three-quarters were well supplied with the ball in the first half.

Fusitu’a scored his first Super League try to give Leeds the lead after three minutes.

It was what they signed him from New Zealand Warriors for, a really strong finish at the corner from Newman’s pass after Rhinos had turned down two points from a penalty in front of the posts.

Five minutes later Leeds scored again through a sweeping move from inside their own half, Walker, Sezer, Handley and Liam Sutcliffe combining to send Morgan Gannon scampering over.

Martin converted both, one from each touchline, but was off target after 15 minutes when Newman marked his return with a try, Matt Prior having laid the foundation with some strong work in the middle of the field.

He did, however, make up for that with a penalty goal midway through the half, after Trinity were caught offside ater Leeds had lost the ball close to the line. Rhinos’ fourth try came 10 minutes before the break and was tough on Trinity’s debutant winger Lewis Murphy, the youngster spilling a tricky bomb by Austin, Sutcliffe picked up and Handley finished well from his pass.

Martin’s touchline goal made it 24-0 and rampant Rhinos added six more points before half-time.

Their fifth try came off a terrific, forceful run by David Fifita, who attacked Leeds’ right, but offloaded straight to Austin.

That set up a Rhinos counter-attack which led Handley slicing through the defence – coming from his wing to score between the posts – after Cameron Smith, Austin and Walker had handled.

Trinity got on the scoreboard 11 minutes into the second half when Trinity’s Matty Ashurst backed up to go over after Mason Lino’s high kick had gone to ground.

Max Jowitt tagged on the extras, via a post, but Leeds scored next when Handley completed a genuine hat-trick – three successive tries – with another excellent finish in the 62nd minute.

He forced his way over at the corner from Sutcliffe’s pass, after Kruise Leeming, Walker and Gannon moved the ball wide.

Rhinos went down to 12 men, for the third time in four league games this year, when Leeming was sin-binned for a high tackle on Harry Bowes soon afterwards.

Trinity got some consolation three minutes from time when Jowitt went over and then Tom Johnstone scored on the final play, Jowitt converting both.

It was far from complete performance by Rhinos, who didn’t get going in the second half, but the first-half performance was a step forward and after three straight defeats, any win was a good one.

The penalty count finished seven-five to Wakefield.

It was four-one in Leeds’ favour in the first half.

Trinity received three set restarts to Rhinos’ two.