Wakefield Trinity v Leeds Rhinos - here's where the game could be won
Leeds Rhinos probably have higher hopes for the season as a whole, but Wakefield Trinity will be quietly confident of a derby win in Betfred Super League round one tomorrow.
Finances may have played a part in Trinity making only one signing since the end of last season, Samoan half-back Mason Lino from Newcastle Knights, but coach Chris Chester has kept faith with a squad who under-performed last year and finished just one place off the foot of the table.
The pressure is on them this time, with the 12th-placed side at the end of the campaign set for relegation, but Wakefield have shown over recent seasons they can be a match for the top teams when they get their best players on the field.
Five of their squad are unavailable this weekend, but - even without Max Jowitt and Ryan Hampshire, the backline looks strong. Chester will have to find a makeshift full-back, but Trinity are powerful in the three-quarters, which is a problem area for Leeds at the moment.
Rhinos have seven players unavailable, including five of their first seven squad numbers, which could open the door for rookie Jack Broadbent, either in his specialist centre role or at full-back if Richie Myler has to play in the halves.
Two of Leeds’ pivots, Rob Lui and Callum McLelland, are on the casualty list, Luke Gale has missed much of pre-season with a pectoral muscle injury and Kyle Eastmond has been back in rugby league less than a month after a decade as a rugby union player.
Coach Richard Agar won’t say if Gale or Eastmond will play, but - given the injuries elsewhere in the backs - one, or possibly both of them will have to.
Gale is known as a fast healer and has been to run throughout his recovery. It’ll be a surprise if he doesn’t feature and Leeds haven’t signed Eastmond to watch from the stands, so if he’s anything like fit, the temptation will be to throw him in.
Alex Sutcliffe, a centre who can also play in the second-row, is included in the initial squad and if either Eastmond or Gale has to be replaced, he could come on in the three-quarters with Broadbent moving to full-back and Richie Myler into the halves.
Or, Agar may have something completely different up his sleeve; that’s what’s so intriguing about round one, nobody outside either camp really knows what either coach is thinking.
With no Jack Walker, Harry Newman, Konrad Hurrell or Ash Handley in Leeds’ ranks, Wakefield will feel they have more firepower in the outside-backs.
Left-winger Tom Johnstone is the best finisher in Super League and he and centre Bill Tupou destroyed Leeds at Headingley two years ago, Reece Lyne is also a big threat and Innes Senior scored twice in a big Wakefield win when the teams met at St Helens towards the end of last season.
They will need to get the ball in their hands though, which is the job of Trinity’s new half-back partnership.
Lino and captain Jacob Miller have had only one pre-season game together and, like Leeds’ play-makers, it will take them a while to gel as a combination, but if they do and they can give their three-quarters an opportunity to attack, Rhinos’ defence will have its hands full.
The job of Leeds’ forwards will be to get the team on the front foot, create space for their own half-backs and deny it to Trinity’s.
Rhinos’ pack isn’t far off full-strength and that will be where they believe they can get on top.
Kyle Wood isn’t in Wakefield’s 21 and Leeds could have an advantage at dummy-half, with Kruise Leeming - who has apparently had a strong pre-season - doing the heavy lifting early before livewire Brad Dwyer injects some pace and energy off the bench.
Wakefield are also without Jay Pitts and Eddie Battye and will have to use a back-rower in the middle at some stage.
Zane Tetevano, Matt Prior and Mikolaj Oledzki should ensure Rhinos go forward and if they all start, with Alex Mellor and Rhyse Martin in the second-row, not only will Leeds’ pack be formidable, but they’ll and also have a strong bench, which could be a deciding factor.
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