THERE were further signs of improvement from Leeds Rhinos when they outplayed a poor Wakefield Trinity side at Headingley last night.
It was another step forward for Rhinos, who have followed their embarrassment at Castleford Tigers two weeks ago with back-to-back wins, scoring 84 points in the process and conceding only 24.
Wakefield’s below-par performance contributed to the ease of Rhinos’ win, but Leeds’s attack finally seems to be clicking into gear.
Trinity’s defence stood up strongly to some, largely self-inflicted, heavy pressure in the opening quarter and they hit back in style when Leeds did eventually go ahead.
But Rhinos grabbed control in the final 11 minutes of the half, scoring 14 unanswered points to take a 20-4 lead.
Another try immediately after the break put the game beyond Wakefield and though the visitors quickly pulled a try back, Leeds moved through the gears again to finish convincing victors.
Kallum Watkins scored a brace of tries, Danny McGuire continued to find his feet as a playmaker and prop Adam Cuthbertson and hooker Matt Parcell are growing in stature and forming a good combination.
“We’re pleased to back up from last week’s good performance,” said Rhinos coach Brian McDermott afterwards.
“There were some good passages of play and I thought we were great defensively, but I don’t think we saw the best of Wakefield.”
Trinity never really got going. Fumbles by Scott Grix and Sam Williams and a pass by Jacob Miller into touch gave Leeds early opportunities, but they could not find a way through, Brett Ferres twice held up over the line.
It was very disappointing, we got out-muscled and out-enthusedWakefield head coach, Chris Chester
On the play after Ferres’s second near-miss, McGuire kicked towards the posts and Watkins rose to make a fine catch for the opening try, which was improved by Ashton Golding.
The full-back was Leeds’s fourth-choice kicker, but Rob Burrow was on the bench, Jordan Lilley is on loan at Bradford Bulls and Liam Sutcliffe missed out due to a quad strain.
He has probably moved up the pecking order after landing seven goals from as many attempts.
Ferres made his first appearance of the season, after a long-term groin problem, in the second-row, effectively taking over from Sutcliffe, who was named in the halves last week, but played as a forward.
The England man looked very strong and surprisingly sharp given the length of his lay-off, another positive for the hosts.
Having operated as a half-back in the big win over Catalans, Joel Moon was named there on the teamsheet. With Brad Singleton beginning his six-game ban, Jordan Baldwinson switched from loose-forward to prop and Mitch Garbutt returned from injury on the bench, coming on to make a big impact..
Trinity’s response to the try was immediate and classy. On a free play inside their own half, Miller’s kick across field was picked up by Tom Johnstone and the winger weaved into space and outpaced the cover for a brilliant, but unconverted, score.
That proved to be the highlight of Wakefield’s evening. They had a good spell after that, including an attack from Williams’s 40-20, but they lacked the final play.
Throughout, Wakefield made too many mistakes, conceding a host of penalties, and will be disappointed with the tries they conceded from close-range.
Leeds’s second score came out of nothing 11 minutes before the break, when Anthony Mullally – a former Wakefield player – powered through a gap which opened up from Parcell’s pass. Golding converted and added a penalty moments later, awarded against Craig Huby, after Mullally almost poached another.
The substitute was held up over the line on 37 minutes and it looked like Leeds would settle for a 10-point interval lead. But with a minute of the half remaining a Wakefield forward pass gave Leeds a final opportunity and they took it when Watkins plunged over off some trickery at acting-half by Parcell.
That made it a long way back for Wakefield and the path got steeper just three minutes into the second half when Leeds took advantage of another penalty to score their fourth try.
Ryan Hall dived over at the corner from Jimmy Keinhorst’s excellent pass after Garbutt and Parcell had handled.
Golding’s terrific touchline conversion made it 26-4, but Trinity cut the gap when David Fifita proved too strong close to the line from Mikey Sio’s pass. That came after back-to-back penalties, the first Trinity had received since Golding sent the kick-off out on the full.
Trinity put Leeds under pressure for a spell, but their last tackle options were poor and Leeds held out more easily than they should have done.
Then when the penalties started to go their way again they showed a clinical side that has been lacking for more than a year.
Cuthbertson burst over for his fourth try of the season from a pass by Burrow, then Trinity were reduced to 12 when captain Danny Kirmond was sin-binned for a high shot on the No 9. Parcell went over from dummy-half moments later.
Joe Arundel got over the line for the visitors, but Ben Jones-Bishop’s pass was forward.
Wakefield did score a consolation after the hooter, following a break out by Kyle Wood and Fifita and a couple of penalties, Johnstone touching down at the corner.
Trinity will be disappointed with the manner of their defeat, but could point to some enforced changes.
They were without in-form centre Reece Lyne and prop Keith England due to injury, so Mitch Allgood made his first start and Arundel his seasonal debut.
Jones-Bishop returned from injury to replace Mason Caton-Brown and Kirmond, Sio and Anthony Walker came back on the bench, with James Batchelor and Liam Finn dropping out.
“It was very disappointing, we got out-muscled and out-enthused,” said Trinity coach Chris Chester. “They ran the ball harder than we did and we were no match for them tonight. Leeds were by far the best side.”
Leeds Rhinos: Golding, Briscoe, Watkins, Keinhorst, Hall, McGuire, Moon, Baldwinson, Parcell, Cuthbertson, Ablett, Ferres, Delaney. Substitutes: Mullally, Burrow, Garbutt, Walters.
Wakefield Trinity: Grix, Johnstone, B. Tupou, Arundel, Jones-Bishop, Miller, Williams, Allgood, Wood, Huby, Hadley, Ashurst, Arona. Substitutes: Kirmond, Sio, Fifita, Walker.
Referee: Jack Smith (RFL).