LEEDS RHINOS’ search for a match-winning half-back, on-going since Kevin Sinfield hung up his rugby league boots at the end of the 2015 season, may have come to an unexpected conclusion.
A variety of play-making combinations, involving Liam Sutcliffe, Danny McGuire, Jordan Lilley and Rob Burrow, failed to produce the desired results, but Joel Moon’s switch into the halves has had a galvanising effect on Leeds, who strengthened their push for a top-four finish with a hard-fought 18-16 win at Wakefield Trinity.
Moon has previous experience in the pivotal role, but joined Leeds in 2013 as a centre and spent most of his first four seasons at the club in the three-quarters.
Injury problems, particularly McGuire’s long-term absence, forced him into a stop-gap move last year, but he has now become a first-choice half-back and was hugely influential in the success at Belle Vue.
Moon is not a classically creative stand-off, but his running game complements captain McGuire’s organisational skills. Wakefield, like many of Leeds’ previous opponents, found him hard to hold.
His decision to run the ball on the final tackle midway through the second half led to the try which edged Leeds ahead and he touched down, following a defensive mix-up, from a high kick by McGuire moments later to open a two-score gap.
Leeds have struggled for a kicking game over the past two years, but both Moon, who is also a strong defender, and McGuire caused Wakefield problems and the former’s high ‘bomb’ forced a mistake which set the field position for the visitors’ opening try, scored from close to the line by Stevie Ward.
Rhinos were better defensively than on attack, their four tries coming in two back-to-back spells midway through each half. They created numerous other opportunities, but failed to add a finishing touch.
Some of that was due to Wakefield’s excellent goalline defence, most notably when Mitch Garbutt forced his way over, but Dean Hadley – returning after a fractured cheekbone – got underneath to prevent him grounding the ball.
Wakefield were lacking several key players due to injury and never quite got their attacking game into gear, making a host of errors in good field position.
They got off to a flying start, leading 10-0 after 11 minutes and came close to snatching victory late on.
Scott Grix was their most potent threat, but the loss of in-form front-row David Fifita, who damaged a knee in the first half, took some of the sting out of their attack.
Wakefield have blistering pace and wing Mason Caton-Brown continued his rich run of try scoring form with a long-range opening touchdown, created by Bill Tupou.
When Kyle Wood, who impressed at hooker, went over for a second home try an eighth straight win was on the cards, but Ward’s score was followed by one from Tom Briscoe, who crossed off Kallum Watkins’s pass to end a move begun in Leeds’ half.
Liam Finn’s conversion of Caton-Brown’s try gave Wakefield a 10-8 interval lead and they might have gone on to win the game had they been able to finish an early chance, which was wasted when Grix’s pass went into touch.
Moon created Leeds’ third touchdown and crossed moments later, Sutcliffe landing his only goal.
Leeds then held on for victory through a tense finish after Ben Jones-Bishop crossed eight minutes from time and Finn booted a magnificent touchline conversion.
Wakefield Trinity: Grix, Jones-Bishop, Arundel, Tupou, Caton-Brown, Williams, Finn, England, Wood, Allgood, Ashurst, Hadley, Sio. Substitutes: Batchelor, Annakin, Hirst, Fifita.
Leeds Rhinos: Golding, Briscoe, Watkins, Sutcliffe, Hall, Moon, McGuire, Singleton, Parcell, Cuthbertson, Ward, Ablett, Jones-Buchanan. Substitutes: Ferres, Galloway, Garbutt. Mullally.
Referee: P Bentham (Warrington).