The traditional Boxing Day Wetherby Whaler Festive Challenge took place this lunchtime at Headingley Stadium as the Leeds Rhinos faced a Wakefield Trinity side who are under the new management of Daryl Powell as he plots them a route back into Super League after last season’s relegation.
Both coaches named a mixture of youth and experience as fans from both clubs turned up in good numbers looking to blow away the Christmas cobwebs and give their lungs an outing after yesterday’s festivities.
While these matches count for little in the whole scheme of pre-season both side’s supporters hoped that their side would secure bragging rights.
Daryl Powell couldn’t have hoped for a better start to his Wakefield coaching career as his side demolished the Rhinos in the opening minutes of the game to sprint into a big lead against the home side, who looked very rust in the opening exchanges.
Romain Franco opened the Trinity scoring as he chased down a pinpoint grubber kick to ground with just three minutes on the clock, Max Jowitt unlucky with his conversion attempt from the touchline. Seven minutes later Wakefield went in for their second after an awful Leeds short dropout saw the ball turned over far too easily, Matty Ashurst rampaging through a gap to score next to the sticks. This time Jowitt was on target for 10-0.
Two minutes later and another disastrous Leeds kick, this one a short attempt from the kick-off which ended up in the hands of Jowitt who ran fifty metres unopposed to score in the corner. He converted his own and the visitors were rampant with a 16-0 lead, the Rhinos looking a distant second best.
On twenty-three the Rhinos had their first chance to score but great defence from Trinity prevented Ash Handley from grounding the ball as he fielded a Jack Sinfield kick to the corner but with six minutes of the half remaining the Rhinos had their first points of the game when a Lachlan Miller grubber kick was grounded by Luis Roberts to cheers from the SouthStanders. Sinfield added the conversion to cut the Trinity lead to ten points, but the visitors hadn’t finished.
In the dying seconds Lachlan Walmsley scored a ninety metre try for Wakefield as he intercepted a wayward Miller pass and showed the chasing Rhinos defenders a clean pair of heels by the right upright. He converted his own try to send his side into the sheds with a very handsome 22-6 lead, and nothing more than a great first half performance merited.
After a first half which was a major disappointment for the home support, there was much more to cheer in the second half as the Rhinos clicked into gear.
With the half just two minutes old Jack Smith intercepted a wayward pass and went twenty to score in the corner. Three minutes later a scoot from dummy half by Andy Ackers saw the Rhinos new signing put skipper Cameron Smith over under the sticks, and on forty-seven minutes Derrell Olpherts pushed aside a couple of attempted tackles to coast in at the corner. Sinfield converted the first two but failed with the third as he struck the left upright, the sides now all square at 22-22 after an amazing turnaround of events.
The Rhinos hit the front on fifty-five with an acrobatic Olpherts try as he flew in at the corner to ground one-handed after taking a Miller miss-out pass. This time Sinfield added the two from the touchline.
To make sure of the win Jack Sinfield dropped a goal from in front of the sticks on seventy, but he needn’t have worried as his side hadn’t stopped scoring four pointers.
On seventy-two a delightful short pass from Jarrod O’Corror found new signing Mickael Goudemand on position to crash over for his first try in Blue and Amber and in the dying seconds Sinfield was the prodder of the final pass which saw Tom Nicholson-Wootton get his first try for the Rhinos, Sinfield kicked both conversions for a final score of 41-22, the Rhinos scoring thirty-five unanswered second half points.
As poor as Leeds were in the first half, they were equally as good in the second as they demolished a Trinity side who had looked more than competent in the opening half of the game. Neither side will have gained much information about the long and hard season ahead from this mix-and-match friendly, but it will be Rohan Smith who will enjoy his Boxing Day turkey sandwich with much more relish than his counterpart at Wakefield.
Leeds Rhinos: Miller, Olpherts (2T), Smith J (T), Roberts (T), Handley, Sinfield (6G, DG), Frawley, Sangare, Ackers, Goudemand (T), McDonnell, Gannon, Smith C (T). Subs: Lisone, Nicholson-Watton (T), O’Connor, Johnson, McCormack F, Lumb, McCormack E, Littlewood.
Wakefield Trinity: Jowitt (T, 2G), Franco (T), Thornley, Pratt, Walmsley (T, G), Hood, Lawford, Antoni, Doyle, Bowden, Ashurst (T), Griffin, Cozza. Subs: Uele, Boothroyd, Croft, Smith, Law, Delaney, Sinfield, Staveley-Carr.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-8, 0-10, 0-14, 0-16, 4-16, 6-16, 6-20, 6-22: HT: 10-22, 12-22, 16-22, 18-22, 22-22, 26-22, 28-22, 29-22, 33-22, 35-22, 39-22, 41-22: FT.
Lead Exchanges: Wakefield – Square - Leeds.
Referee: Tom Grant.