A BRILLIANT, rapid first-half hat-trick from England winger Tom Johnstone helped Wakefield Trinity ruin Leeds Rhinos’ homecoming.
Trinity were full value for their 35-18 victory in Leeds’ long-awaited first Betfred Super League game at Emerald Headingley this year.
Johnstone still has the occasional error in him, but the German-born 23-year-old – a product of the Stanningley community club in Leeds – is the best finisher in the European game.
His three tries came in succession on 11, 15 and 22 minutes as Wakefield punished Rhinos’ fragile right-edge.
Leeds went ahead in the opening exchanges and did stage a brief revival late in the half, but their errors and penalties given away were ruthlessly punished and Trinity held a deserved 22-10 lead at the interval.
Rhinos had lost from 22-10 ahead in their previous game at St Helens, but never threatened to overturn Wakefield’s big advantage, particularly after the visitors scored first in the second period.
Leeds got tetchy in the second period, had Trent Merrin sin-binned late on and made things easier for Wakefield than they might have been with a succession of errors and penalties.
Two late tries flattered the hosts a little. Trinity also looked vulnerable on the flanks, but their goalline defence was far superior to Leeds’ and they were clinical on attack.
Bill Tupou was excellent inside Johnstone, Jacob Miller had a fine game and the pack were outstanding.
Importantly, there were also some strong efforts from the bench.
Leeds, in contrast, took a step backwards after recent promising performances. They missed Jack Walker, whose hamstring injury led to Tui Lolohea moving to full-back and Cameron Smith starting at stand-off. All four of Leeds’ tries came off passes by Lolohea.
Trinity made only one change to their starting lineup from last week’s win over Catalans Dragons, George King stepping up off the bench to replace Anthony England at prop.
England pulled up during Thursday’s final training run. Pauli Pauli came in on the bench for his first appearance of the campaign, having recovered from a knee injury suffered in pre-season.
That left Tyler Randell (shoulder), Craig Huby (shoulder) and Danny Kirmond (biceps) as Trinity’s remaining casualties.
Johnstone still has the occasional error in him, but the German-born 23-year-old – a product of the Stanningley community club in Leeds – is the best finisher in the European game.Peter Smith
The rejig at full-back and stand-off was Rhinos’ most notable change, though Adam Cuthbertson stepped up off the bench to start in place of knee injury victim Stevie Ward.
Matt Parcell (ear) and James Donaldson (concussion) were back from injuries which kept them out of the defeat at Saints.
Full-back Ashton Golding is now fit and will play his first competitive game of the year on dual-registration for Featherstone Rovers at Widnes Vikings tomorrow, along with clubmates Harry Newman and Luke Briscoe.
Dom Crosby (knee and ankle), Carl Ablett (ankle) and Jamie Jones-Buchanan (back) are all now in training, but weren’t considered for last night. Ablett warmed up before the game though Newman was 18th man.
The game’s first five tries were scored by three different wingers. Ash Handley’s fourth try of the season sent Leeds into a third-minute lead.
Lolohea’s superb pass set him up and he burst past Ben Jones-Bishop, after a thunderous charge by Konrad Hurrell earlier in the set and a good ball from Kallum Watkins gave Tom Briscoe a run.
The first time Wakefield got good field position, from a knock-on by Lolohea, they scored, on 12 minutes. Jacob Miller and Ryan Hampshire moved the ball left to Bill Tupou who sucked the defence before slipping the pass to Johnstone, who narrowed the gap enough for Danny Brough to add the extras.
Lolohea’s restart sailed out on the full and Trinity went down the same route to score their second try on the final tackle from the penalty, Brough, Miller and Tupou working the ball to Johnstone.
His finish this time was spectacular, a diving one-handed put down through Watkins’ attempted tackle.
On 21 minutes, Johnstone knocked on in midfield and from the scrum Lolohea fed Handley, who turned the ball back to Hurrell. He only needed to catch the ball to score, but knocked-on.
That was a big moment in the game.
At the end of the next set Miller hoisted a kick to Trinity’s left and Johnstone made a brilliant catch to complete a 10-minute genuine hat-trick.
Brough’s conversion opened a 12-point gap, but Leeds were immediately back in it. The restart was caught by Johnstone. He tried to offload before putting a foot on the whitewash, but chucked the ball dead anyway.
From the kick, Smith linked with Lolohea whose long pass, to the right this time, was well finished by Briscoe.
Referee Chris Kendall asked video assistant James Child to check for a possible obstruction, but the move was clean and Lolohea converted from wide out.
Leeds have tended to concede some unnecessary penalties this year and back-to-back high tackles – by Brett Ferres on James Batchelor and Smith on Hampshire – contributed to the visitors’ fourth try, eight minutes before the interval.
If Rhinos are going to achieve anything this term they can’t afford to concede such soft tries, Kyle Wood – revelling in the extra game time following Randell’s injury – picking up from acting-half and holding off Smith, who should have kept him out.
Brough added his third goal and Wakefield showed Rhinos how it should be done, preventing Briscoe getting the ball down over the line and then halting Smith and Mikolaj Oledzki just short of it.
Trinity extended their lead at the start of the second half when Myler took out Batchelor as he chased Brough’s kick, the number seven taking the two.
Smith showed what he can do when he stepped through the Trinity defence on 50 minutes. Kendall thought it was a try, but Child overruled him, awarding the visitors a penalty for obstruction.
Ten minutes later, Craig Kopczak should have been penalised for interference on Hurrell, the prop effectively giving himself up with his reaction but, instead, Kendall called a knock-on and then Parcell was penalised for dissent.
Leeds have been on the wrong end of some tough – and at times clearly wrong – decisions this season and five games in that is beginning to become an issue, but they have to react better.
That’s not Trinity’s problem. They took advantage in the best way possible by scoring in the resulting set when Miller sliced through for a the try which effectively sealed the points.
With eight minutes left, Trent Merrin was penalised in possession, presumably for dissent. Kendall then sin-binned him for continuing the protest.
By that stage it was 35-10, Brough having anded a drop goal with 17 minutes left and then converted his won try from Jones-Bishop’s break.
After the sin-binning, Kendall began to even up the penalty count, awarding Leeds five of the final six. Rhinos scored two consolation tries against 12 men, Handley performing an acrobatic finish and Briscoe also adding his second, both off passes from Lolohea who couldn’t improve either.
The final penalty count was nine-eight in Trinity’s favour (four-two in the first half).
Trinity’s Matty Ashurst was placed on report for possible dangerous contact on Merrin early on, though there was no penalty. Ashurst went off injured in the final quarter.