The traditional Festive Challenge between the Leeds Rhinos and Wakefield Trinity brought down the curtain on a 2021 which had ended disappointingly for both sides. The capacity at Headingley had been voluntarily limited to 9,999 but with some tickets remaining unsold it appeared that COVID concerns were forcing people to stay at home.
The Rhinos named a strong squad and included a young Jack Sinfield who would follow in his famous father’s footsteps and make his first senior appearance alongside new arrivals Aidan Sezer, James Bentley and Blake Austin.
Trinity looked somewhat weaker on paper with a large number of first-teamers standing down but they also gave debuts to new arrivals including Corey Hall, Lee Gaskell, and Liam Hood.
After the Rhinos dominated the opening ten minutes it was Wakefield who opened the scoring when a Kruise Leeming wayward pass hit Jack Broadbent’s feet and popped up into the hands of Lewis Murphy allowing the winger to run thirty metres down the wing and dive over in the corner. Brad Walker added a touchline conversion for a 6-0 lead against the run of play.
Wakefield returned the gift four minutes later with a knock-on, and on the fourth play Aidan Sezer threw the dummy, dropped the shoulder and jinked his way to the line to cross on his back and spin over to ground. Sezer added the conversion to level the scores.
Wakefield put their kick-off out on the full and after Trinity conceded a penalty just out from their sticks Mikolaj Oledzki went close before the Rhinos moved the ball wide left with Ash Handley taking a Richie Myler miss-out pass and skipping out of the tackle to dive in at the corner. Sezer drifted his conversion across the front of the uprights, the Rhinos 10-6 ahead after a quarter of the game.
The Rhinos squandered a couple of chances, despite Wakefield offering up plenty of opportunities, some rustiness in evidence for both sides.
With ninety seconds of the half remaining substitute James Donaldson was sin-binned for a late tackle on his own twenty metre line but the Rhinos defended their line to take a four-point lead into the interval.
Two minutes after the restart and the twelve men added to their score with Myler again the provider and beating three men to put in the pass for Handley to score from ten metres out. Sezer added the conversion for 16-6.
The Rhinos were storming to the win on fifty-four when Harry Newman took a reverse pass from Myler ten out from the Wakefield line and step past the defence to scramble his way over the line. Sezer was again accurate with the kick to establish clear daylight between the sides.
Thirteen minutes from the end Tom Briscoe found a big hole in the Wakefield defence with Jack Sinfield and Myler combining to lay the try on a plate for the Leeds centre. Sinfield took the ball and slotted the kick between the uprights for his first senior points in a Leeds shirt to extend the Rhinos lead to 28-6.
The icing on the cake for the home side was a solo effort from Newman as he went thirty metres in beating three defenders to score under the uprights, the Rhinos sixth unanswered try of the afternoon. When Sinfield added the conversion it was 34-6.
This was another Myler masterclass and gives some indication as to who the 2022 lynchpin will be for the Rhinos. He was instrumental in four of the six tries and controlled his backs to build on good ground and momentum from his forwards. Wakefield’s Willie Poching will read very little into this result and will look upon it as an opportunity to have given some ‘big occasion experience’ to some of the youngsters whom he may rely on during the next Superleague campaign.
Leeds Rhinos: Myler, Broadbent, Newman (2T), Briscoe (T), Handley (2T), Austin, Sezer (T, 3G), Oledzki, Leeming, Tetevano, Mellor, Bentley, Smith. Subs: Dwyer, Donaldson (SB on 38), Gannon, Thompson, O’Connor, Sinfield (2G), Tindall.
Wakefield Trinity: Butterworth, Murphy (T), Minns, Hall, Davetanivalu, Walker (G), Gaskell, Aydin, Bowes, Arona, Ashurst, Tanginoa, Crowther. Subs: Hood, Fifita, Farrar, Poching, Abraham.
Full Time: 34-6.
Cumulative Score: 0-4, 0-6, 4-6, 6-6, 10-6, (SB): HT : 14-6, 16-6, 20-6, 22,6, 26-6, 28-6, 32-6, 34-6 : FT.
Referee: Jack Smith.