There is often plenty to learn in the early weeks of the Super League season. Friday’s opening night taught us what we perhaps already knew: that St Helens and Wigan are the two teams to beat again this year. But the second act of Super League’s opening gambit in 2021 was perhaps much more intriguing, and it was certainly entertaining.
Supporters of Leeds and Wakefield will not yet have the full picture in terms of whereabouts in the table their sides will be competing this year, but they can be fairly sure it will be an entertaining watch, no matter how the results transpire.
This was the standout game of the opening weekend to date, with the two West Yorkshire sides producing a thrilling, end-to-end spectacle.
Many felt that the one clear advantage of Super League pushing back its start date to late-March was that it would produce firmer pitches for teams to play entertaining rugby on from the very start. That was certainly evident here, and while it was Leeds who claimed victory thanks to Jack Broadbent’s try on the hour mark, both sides will be encouraged by what they saw.
Leeds have had a rocky pre-season to say the least. With injuries to key players, and a Covid outbreak that forced them to shutdown the club for a fortnight in January, they certainly looked to be feeling the effects of those issues midway through the first half here, when they trailed 16-4. However, by half-time, they were ahead 22-16, and eventually closed out winners thereafter.
“I’m happy we came from behind and closed a tight game out,” their coach, Richard Agar, said. “We’ve plenty to built on, plenty of positives and we know there’s things to work on – as we knew there would be in round one.”
His opposite number, Chris Chester, was equally upbeat, despite the fact Wakefield were on the wrong side of the result here. “We needed to be better at shutting that half out,” Chester lamented. “But the guys are positive in the dressing room; we’re a totally different team this year.”
After last season’s 10th-placed finish, this was an encouraging start for Wakefield, with their standout talent once again impressing. Many feel Tom Johnstone is an increasingly-likely pick for this autumn’s World Cup – and the two remarkable tries he scored here will have certainly helped his case for selection.
Johnstone’s first, a wonderful mazy long-range effort, levelled the scores at 4-4 after Luke Briscoe’s early try. Further tries from Matty Ashurst and Innes Senior seemed to put Wakefield in control, before Leeds hit back when Alex Sutcliffe, Brad Dwyer and Richie Myler all crossed in the space of ten minutes to make it 22-16 in Leeds’ favour at half-time.
In a second half of few clear-cut chances Johnstone’s second stunning solo try made it 22-22, before Broadbent struck the decisive blow heading into the final quarter, capitalising on a Wakefield error.