Despite freezing temperatures overnight, the undersoil heating at Emerald Headingley ensured that the traditional Boxing Day game between the Leeds Rhinos and Wakefield Trinity was never in doubt and a crowd still stuffed with Christmas treats, and some nursing slightly sore heads, made their way into the ground.
Leeds’ squad included new signings Justin Sangare, Derrell Olpherts, and James McDonnell and whilst there is a welcome return from injury for Morgan Gannon and Tom Holroyd, who all missed the end of last season on the side-lines.
It was also a strong Wakefield side named by new coach Mike Applegarth with a good mix of senior players and those looking to break into the first team ahead of the 2023 season including two new signings, Renouf Atoni and Morgan Smith. The Rhinos have won three quarters of the Boxing Day challenges against Wakefield, including last year when Leeds win by 34-6.
After an end to end opening eight minutes, a rush of blood in the form of a dangerous tackle on Mason Lino by James Donaldson saw the Rhinos forward in the sinbin for ten minutes and Leeds down to twelve men.
With just under twenty seconds remaining of the sin-binning Wakefield opened the scoring with Jay Pitts dropping the shoulder and rounding the Leeds defence to dive over midway between the right post and touchline. Max Jowitt pushed his kick across the face of the posts as Leeds coach Rohan Smith made five changes to personnel as Donaldson emerged from the bin.
The second Wakefield try came on twenty-five with Reece Lyne taking a short pass and pushing through two weak Leeds tackles to drop over the line. Jowitt sliced his kick just wide of the right post, the Trinity kicker zero from two.
Four minutes after going 8-0 the Rhinos got their first of the game when second-rower James McDonnell chased down a Richie Myler kick to collect and ground before sliding dead in goal. Ash Handley made no mistake with his conversion, Leeds back within two of Trinity with ten minutes of the first half remaining.
A brilliant solo effort from Liam Tindall saw Leeds in for their second as he went forty metres down the right wing, shrugging off two attempted tackles, to ground in the corner. Youngster Mackenzie Turner was unable to add the conversion from wide on the touchline.
As the hooter warned up Eddie Battye battered his way over the line, spinning out of a first tackle and then dragging three Rhinos tacklers over the line with him to ground, referee Thaler pointing to the spot under the posts. Jowitt added the simplest conversion of the afternoon to give Wakefield a 14-10 half time lead.
A Kruise Leeming forty-twenty opened the first half for Leeds and on the second play a delightful pass from Leeming found Morgan Gannon to go through a big gap and score by the upright to draw the Rhinos level. Turner missed an easy conversion to leave the sides wrapped up.
Leeming, Myler, and Leon Ruan all combined for Leeming to take the final pass and run in to score. This time Turner found the target for his first points in a Leeds shirt to establish a 20-14 lead for the Rhinos.
Renouf Atoni proved himself a battering ram as he took the ball on the Rhinos ten metres line and bowled over the defence to ground by the left upright. Robbie Butterworth was on target with the conversion attempt to again level the scores, the game was still anyone’s with fifteen minutes remaining.
Trinity hit the front again on sixty-seven with Lee Kershaw collecting a delightful Lee Gaskell chip to the corner to walk in from two metres and ground to regain his side the lead. Buterworth was unable to add the extras from the touchline.
Wakefield sealed the win on seventy-five with the Leeds defence exposed again as Gaskell found Jordan Crowther drag Leeds players over the line with him to ground. Butterworth managed to miss a simple conversion, but the game was over.
Trinity got the icing on their Christmas Cake when Kershaw got his second of the game in the dying seconds as he found space on the overlap right to take the pass and ground in the corner. Gaskell added the conversion from the touchline 34-20.
But Wakefield weren´t done as Tindall failed to take a Gaskell high kick, Lewis Murphy picking his pocket to take two steps and dive over the line. Butterworth hit the left upright with the conversion attempt, Trinity taking an impressive 38-20 win.
Both sides are clearly some distance from Superleague ready, and both coaches took the opportunity to blood and few of their youngsters, but it was a good competitive game to keep the Boxing Day crown entertained and send them home to the warmth with a warm glow at what they had seen. Wakefield the more composed and experienced enabled them to take the spoils.
Leeds Rhinos: Handley (G), Simpson, Edwards, Olpherts, Tindall (T), Gannon (T), Myler, Holroyd, Leeming (T), Walters, Gibbons, McDonnell (T), Donaldson (SB on 8). Subs: Sangare, Nicholson-Watton, O´Connor, Turner (G), Edgell, Ruan, Field, Smith.
Wakefield Trinity: Jowitt (G), Kershaw (2T), Lyne (T), Pratt, Murphy (T), Gaskell (G), Lino, Bowden, Smith, Whitbread, Pitts (T), Ashurst, Crowther (T). Subs: Bowes, Atoni (T), Battye (T), Eseh, Butler, Windrow, Law, Butterworth (G).
Score Progression: (SB), 0-4, 0-8, 4-8, 6-8, 10-8, 10-12, 10-14 : HT : 14-14, 14-18, 14-20, 18-20, 20-20, 20-24, 20-28, 20-32, 20-34, 20-38 : FT .
Lead Exchanges: Wakefield – Leeds – Wakefield – Square – Leeds – Square - Wakefield.
Referee: Ben Thaler.