Contrasting fortunes for Leeds and Wakefield

So it’s back to back defeats for Leeds. After being outplayed in the second half of last week’s game against Castleford, Wakefield managed to dominate the champions for around 65 minutes of their 28-18 win at the weekend.

Brian McClennan must be wondering what is going on in this early part of the year, with perhaps the excuse of the upcoming World Club Challenge clash with Melbourne perhaps wearing a little thin.

Whilst their defence has been solid enough in the main, Leeds have been conceding soft tries for a team so experienced, and one of sustained continuity in its ranks, with just two new faces in the shape of Greg Eastwood and Brett Delaney for 2010. In that Castleford game, two simple inside balls opened the Leeds defence far too easily and at Wakefield, a simple loop exposed a gaping hole in the Leeds line.

McClennan places particular emphasis on his sides’ defence. In his first season Leeds had the meanest defence in the competition, and last year only Huddersfield conceded fewer points. There are enough leaders in the Leeds team to restore the cohesion to their defence that has taken them to three successive titles, but the attack must be of some concern.

Time and again at the weekend, Leeds looked a little lost for ideas with the ball in hand. Their usually expansive game was virtually none existent until the game was as good as over against Wakefield, and until 60 minutes it was conceivable to think that the likes of Scott Donald, Ryan Hall and Kallum Watkins were not playing at all. The Rhinos have so many flair players in their side that soon it surely must all click into place, with the “timings” that McClennan has focused on coming into place.

One element they will certainly have to improve on straight away however is their poor discipline – they conceded 17 penalties on Sunday. Captain Kevin Sinfield saw yellow on Sunday, after referee James Child grew impatient with his back chat. It was slightly disappointing to see the champions constantly complaining with the referee after decisions, whether they agreed with him or not. It probably contributed to their downfall, when perhaps they should have focused with getting on with the game.

Despite back to back defeats, the quality of the players and coaching staff Leeds have are too good for the season to continue in this manner, but for now at least there are a few problems to be addressed at Headingley. Perhaps when the Melbourne clash is out of the way, their focus will return on retaining their Super League crown for a fourth successive season.

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One team who have certainly not stuttered so far are the Wakefield Wildcats. In an earlier blog, I predicted an 11th place finish for the Wildcats, and if early impressions are anything to go by, I’ll be eating some humble pie come the end of the season. John Kear’s side have started 2010 in scintillating form and must be a good bet to reach the play-offs, and at this rate fairly comfortably.

They thoroughly outplayed Leeds on Sunday, and were full value for their ten point victory. The Wildcats displayed a huge amount of enthusiasm and no less amount of skill. The only word to sum up their performance was ‘brilliant’.

The star of the show was their enigmatic half-back Danny Brough, who kicked Leeds into submission both from hand and from the tee. Time and again Brough turned the Leeds back three with some astute tactical kicking from hand, the pressure he created kept building on Leeds, ultimately resulting in points for Wakefield. He also showed a lightning turn of foot to outpace Rhinos flyer Ryan Hall to notch a superb solo intercept try early in the second half. Alongside Ben Jeffries, Brough has formed a potent half-back strike force capable of tearing most teams in the competition apart.

New prop Shane Tronc ran Brough very close for the man of match award. Leeds struggled to contain the former North Queensland Cowboy all game. Even with three players in the tackle, Tronc still managed to break the line consistently and followed it with the offload to match. Yet for all the praise for single out players, Wakefield’s victory, and season so far, is based on a collective effort; all players want to do well for each other and to improve the Wildcats each and every game. As John Kear put it: “All 17 of the guys who were out there can sit back tonight and think ‘I’ve done my job very well’.” Words never so true.

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To finish I thought I might try and put together a ‘Team of the Round’ feature into my weekly blog. Feel free to agree or disagree as you see!

1. Paul Wellens (St. Helens) 2. Will Sharp (Harlequins) 3. Sean Gleeson (Wakefield) 4. Vince Mellars (Crusaders) 5. Amos Roberts (Wigan) 6. Leon Pryce (St. Helens) 7. Danny Brough (Wakefield) 8. Gareth Carvell (Warrington) 9. James Roby (St. Helens) 10. Shane Tronc (Wakefield) 11. Sean O’Loughlin (Wigan) 12. Jason Demetriou (Wakefield) 13. Sean O’Loughlin (Wigan)

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