Veteran Australian coach Brian Smith takes charge of Wakefield Trinity Wildcats today having had a first-hand glimpse of the scale of the task in front of him.
Wakefield’s home loss to Leeds Rhinos was their 14th successive Super League defeat and they remain seven points adrift at the foot of the table.
It was the sixth time this year they have conceded more than half a century of points and they have kept the opposition below 40 only once in their last 11 league matches.
Watching from the sidelines, Smith may have been impressed by the way Wakefield started and finished the game, but the third quarter, when Leeds ran in seven tries, is likely to cause him sleepless nights.
Wakefield’s caretaker coach Stuart Dickens, in charge for the final time, said: “In the first half, for large parts, we went set for set with them and we were really unlucky to only score one try.
“But in the first 20 minutes of the second half we didn’t have the ball, or we spilled it on the first or second tackle. Leeds are too good a side to defend for a 20-minute period.
“But in the last 15 minutes, when we did get the ball in hand, we caused Leeds all sorts of problems again.”
This year has not all been doom and gloom for the troubled Belle Vue club.
In 19-year-old winger Tom Johnstone, they have unearthed a young player of rich promise.
He can be fragile in defence, but has blistering pace and good awareness on attack, as he demonstrated by getting in place to take Tim Smith’s kick to the corner after just four minutes, Craig Hall converting.
Leeds replied quickly through Liam Sutcliffe – who started at full-back for the first time, in place of the injured Zak Hardaker – and took control with two tries in three minutes in the second quarter.
Danny McGuire twisted over from acting-half to become only the fourth player to reach 250 tries for Leeds and he also handled in the set from the re-start, in a move which led to Rob Burrow touching down.
Johnstone had already made a fine tackle to keep Ryan Hall out and he got Wakefield back in the game when he dashed into space and offloaded out of Sutcliffe’s tackle to put Pita Godinet in at the corner.
That came five minutes before half-time, but Leeds had time to edge three scores clear when Carl Ablett forced his way over and Kevin Sinfield kicked the third of his five goals.
Wakefield were still in the game at 24-10 down, but Leeds finally shook off their lethargy to put the result beyond doubt in a blistering attacking spell straight after the interval, Ash Handley, Sutcliffe – who added two goals – and Brad Singleton all crossing twice and Jimmy Keinhorst also breaching an out-classed defence.
With Thursday’s game against Castleford Tigers in mind, coach Brian McDermott took the opportunity to give some of his key men, including Sinfield, Jamie Peacock, Stevie Ward, Paul Aiton and McGuire, a breather in the late stages, as well as introducing 18-year-old half-back Jordan Lilley for his Super League debut.
Wakefield, to their credit, took advantage of Leeds’s reshuffle to add three tries in the final 10 minutes. Godinet created the first two for Danny Kirmond and Nick Scruton, before his run led to Johnstone going over. The Samoan also kicked two conversions.
The win took Leeds back into top spot on the table, but McDermott was less than impressed by his team’s display.
He said: “I didn’t think we were great in the first 40 minutes. In the second half, without being disrespectful, we scored some tries against a team that’s lacking in confidence.”
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats: Owen, Johnstone, C Hall, Arundel, Riley, Godinet, T Smith, Scruton, Howarth, Kavanagh, Washbrook, Kirmond, D Smith. Substitutes: McShane, Simon, Ryan, Annakin.
Leeds Rhinos: Sutcliffe, Handley, Watkins, Keinhorst, R Hall, McGuire, Burrow, Cuthbertson, Aiton, Peacock, S Ward, Ablett, Sinfield. Substitutes: Singleton, Walters, Yates, Lilley.
Referee: J Cobb (Leigh).