THE Challenge Cup is a big target for Leeds Rhinos, who have lost six finals since their last Wembley victory 15 years ago.
And coach Brian McDermott’s side got off to an impressively strong start yesterday, as they ran in 11 tries to rout their Super League rivals Wakefield Trinity Wildcats 60-6 at Rapid Solicitors Stadium yesterday.
Leeds were superior in every department, but Wakefield put up only token resistance and they must now pick themselves up for another meeting with Rhinos, in the league at Headingley in four days’ time.
Rhinos’ reward for their fourth round win was a home draw against the only team to beat them so far this year, St Helens, but on yesterday’s evidence, Saints will have to play well to repeat their 14-10 league victory at the end of March.
Faced by a Wakefield team who have a habit of giving them a game on home turf, Rhinos took a while to get going, but their opening try sparked a flurry of five touchdowns in 13 minutes.
“It was a tough opening,” McDermott said. “In the first 15 minutes we bombed a few chances and while it appeared we looked dominant, they only needed one thing to go their way.
“You have got to admit Wakefield did not challenge us as much as we thought they would, but in the early stages there was concern that we weren’t nailing those chances.
“I think we bombed three tries early on, but after that we were very dominant, very switched on and I thought our mentality towards the game was where it needed to be.”
With Rhinos’ ex-Wakefield hooker Paul Aiton missing out due to illness, Rob Burrow continued in the acting-half role and he was instrumental in Leeds’s first half charge.
His first meaningful action was a copybook tackle on Peter Fox, who threatened to break clear from inside his own half. Then Burrow spotted a gap from acting half 20 metres out and sheer pace took him through a flat-footed defence for the first touchdown.
Kevin Sinfield landed the first of his eight conversions and five minutes later his pass was finished by Carl Ablett to double the lead.
Moments later Burrow put in a superb kick to Wildcats’ right and the bounce deceived Peter Fox, allowing Joel Moon to pick and flick on to Danny McGuire, who galloped across to make it 18-0.
Paul Sykes kicked his restart out on the full and from the subsequent penalty Burrow’s pass allowed Ryan Hall to stroll over for a try on his 200th Leeds appearance.
Unbelievably, Sykes kicked the restart dead again and Leeds took advantage to score their fifth try, Ablett crossing on the last from Sinfield’s pass.
Wakefield got off the mark with an excellent individual try six minutes before half-time when Pita Godinet dummied through the defence from 20 metres out and Jarrod Sammut added the extras.
With less than a minute of the half left Godinet again got close to the line, but his offload was snapped up by Zak Hardaker and then Ablett led a Leeds counter-attack which ended with Hall dashing over from half-way.
Sinfield’s conversion made it 32-6 at half-time and Leeds added two more touchdowns in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
Mitch Achurch returned to Leeds’s side after recovering from a head injury which kept him out of the previous week’s defeat at St Helens and he got the ball rolling again with a powerful run from Hardaker’s pass, after Sinfield had begun the move.
And then Achurch and Sinfield carved out an opening for Liam Sutcliffe, who was back in Rhinos colours after a four-game loan spell at Bradford Bulls.
Rhinos added three more tries in the final 10, through Tom Briscoe who intercepted an Ali Lauitiiti pass, Rob Burrow off Jamie Peacock’s offload and Moon, catching Sinfield’s chip.
These are tough times for Wakefield, who lost 44-6 loss at Hull KR seven days earlier.
Coach Richard Agar said: “We couldn’t compete. We talked about the quality we’d need to have with the ball if we were to compete against Leeds, but we gave up too much ball early doors and they had a period when they posted tries on us far too easily.
“It is a concern for us. We are concerned about how many tackles we are making and how many tackles we are winning. We are not going to go too far as a football team unless we can fix that up.”
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats: Mathers, Fox, Collis, Sykes, Lyne, Sammut, Godinet, Anderson, McShane, Moore, Lauitiiti, Kirmond, Washbrook. Substitutes: Smith, Tautai, Scruton, Ryan.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker, Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall, McGuire, Sinfield, Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Delaney, Ablett, Kirke. Substitutes: Ward, Bailey, Achurch, Singleton.
Referee: J Child (RFL).