IF, before kick-off, Wakefield Trinity Wildcats had been told they would score 22 points away to Leeds Rhinos and keep the Super League leaders below 50, they would probably have considered that a reasonable result.
Supposedly every minute matters in Super League this season, but realistically there are still games when the result is a foregone conclusion and West Yorkshire’s second Easter derby was one of those.
Leeds, fresh from a tough victory at Castleford on Good Friday, were always going to be too fast and too strong for an injury-hit Wakefield team who went into the game on a six-game losing run. From the start the only real doubt was over the margin of victory and in that regard Wakefield probably did better than many of their fans in the big 17,609 crowd feared.
The injury-hit visitors could have let Leeds roll over them, but, though 48-22 was a fair reflection, they gave a good account of themselves overall. In the opening period they got close to Leeds’ line on four occasions and scored three tries. Though they tightened up after the interval, Leeds’ seemed unusually passive in defence, clearly believing how ever many points they conceded, they could score enough to win the game.
In the first 40, each time Leeds looked to be pulling clear, Wakefield – playing with great spirit – hit them on the counter-attack. Rhinos took control after the break, as Wakefield tired, but the visitors kept trying and it was an improvement on their performance in the 40-4 home loss to Catalans Dragons four days earlier.
As well as leaving them bottom of the table, that defeat cost Wakefield two players for the trip to Headingley. Dean Collis is facing around a month on the sidelines after suffering a ruptured testicle and Mickael Simon was also ruled out.
Coach James Webster revealed after the game he had contacted the RFL to check what would happen if he was unable to field 17 fit players. As it was, several Wakefield men went into the game carrying knocks which would otherwise have ruled them out, so they did well to stay in touch with Leeds – who were able to rest veteran prop Jamie Peacock and recall captain Kevin Sinfield – for so long.
It proved a memorable afternoon for Sinfield, who converted all eight of Leeds’ tries to become only the fourth player in rugby league history to pass 4,000 career points.
Similarly, Rob Burrow, in his first start of the season, scored two tries to take him to 1,000 points for Leeds, something achieved by only 11 other players.
Leeds head coach Brian McDermott said: “It is another massive feat for Kev in his career. For Rob to get 1,000 points, that’s huge.
“They have been fantastic players and continue to be fantastic players for this club.”
The home team were always in control, despite Wakefield’s resistance and got over the Wakefield line three times before their opening try, on 10 minutes. Ryan Hall had a touchdown ruled out for a forward pass and Brad Singleton was twice held up in-goal, but Leeds got the scoreboard ticking when Burrow kicked through and Ryan Hall touched down.
The scores were level just five minutes later when Danny Washbrook caught Leeds flat-footed from a tap penalty and then Tim Smith’s dancing feet took him over the line, Craig Hall landing the first of his three goals.
Zak Hardaker finished off a fine move also involving Brett Delaney, Kallum Watkins and Liam Sutcliffe, but then the full-back’s pass, almost on the Wakefield line, was intercepted by Craig Hall and he raced the full length of the field to square matters again.
Burrow scored back-to-back tries to make it 24-12, but Jarrod Sammut marked his return to Wakefield’s side with a try after Pita Godinet, Washbrook and former Leeds man Ali Lauitiiti had all handled.
Hall missed the conversion attempt and Leeds extended their advantage to 30-16 on the stroke of half-time when excellent play by Stevie Ward sent Watkins over.
There was no hint of a Wakefield fightback in the second period, as Leeds added three more tries.
It took them 15 minutes to get the first of those, teenage wing Ash Handley crossing in the corner from substitute Danny McGuire’s flat pass.
Wakefield’s George Griffin dropped the ball over the line before Andy Yates accepted McGuire’s pass and barged over for his first Super League try; then Watkins added his second off a mistake by Sammut.
Daniel Smith was one of four ex-Leeds players in Wakefield’s lineup and he capped a strong display with the game’s final try, two minutes from time.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker, Handley, Watkins, Moon, R Hall, Sutcliffe, Burrow, Singleton, Aiton, Cuthbertson, Ablett, Delaney, Sinfield. Subs (all used) S Ward, Achurch, McGuire, Yates.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats: Sammut, Riley C Hall, Arundel, Owen, Miller, T Smith, Scruton, McShane, Griffin, Kirmond, Washbrook, D Smith. Subs (all used) Hand, Lauitiiti, Godinet, Ryan.
Referee: M Thomason (Warrington).