Widnes failed to celebrate their return to the elite with a victory as they ran out of steam in the latter stages against a team expected to be struggling with them near the bottom of Super League. Both sets of strangers performed rather better than might have been reasonably expected, but in the end it was the Vikings' defensive work-load that pushed them beyond their limit and showed how much they have to do to be competitive.
The Widnes coach, Dennis Betts, pointed to an 8-1 penalty count against his side in the second half, but said that even before that they had lacked composure. "They looked realy frantic," he saId. "They got caught up in all the circus and the hoopla and it affected the way they played."
Wherever you looked last night, there was a feeling of novelty. Not only were Widnes back in Super League for the first time in seven years, they were playing on rugby league's first artificial pitch. The air of unfamiliarity extended to the line-ups, with both clubs having bought in virtually a new side over the winter.
After Ben Cockayne had twice gone close for Trinity, it was one of Widnes' few survivors from last season, Danny Craven, who had the distinction of scoring their first try back in the top flight.
Two of Wakefield's new Kiwis combined for their first try, Isaac John delaying his pass cleverly and Ali Lauitiiti timing his run equally well.
Frank Winterstein then slipped the ball out for Widnes that enabled Patrick Ah Van to go over in the corner, too far out to add to his earlier conversion.
Wakefield drew level soon after the break, Andy Raleigh winning the race to touch down Tim Smith's kick and John adding the goal.An eccentric bounce from Rhys Hanbury's kick prevented Ah Van scoring to put Widnes back in the lead, but they hit the front again when Hep Cahill went 60 metres from a charged-down kick.
Back came Trinity with Richie Mathers' try and John's second goal and when Smith found another gap in a tiring defence with 15 minutes to play they seemed to have the match under control. No sooner had Widnes' Ben Cross been sent to the sin-bin than Peter Fox took the result beyond doubt with the fifth Wildcats' try, followed by his second to rather flatter the visitors by making it 22 unanswered points.
Widnes Craven; Dean, Marsh, Isa, Ah Van; Clarke, Hanbury; Cross, Moore, Kavanagh, Winterstein, Allen, Cahill. Substitutes used White, Pickersgill, Haggerty, Mullally.
Wakefield Mathers; Fox, Collis, Mellars, Cockayne; John, Smith; Amor, Aiton, Southern, Lauitiiti, Kirmond, Washbrook. Substitutes used Wood, Wilkes, Raleigh, Johnson.
* Warrington have left Lee Briers out of their squad to play at Hull tomorrow, for an unspecified breach of club discipline.
Watkins treble carries battling leeds to victory
A second-half hat-trick of tries from 20-year-old centre Kallum Watkins helped Leeds begin the defence of their Super League crown with a hard-fought 34-16 victory over Hull Kingston Rovers at Headingley on captain Kevin Sinfield's 400th appearance.
"We had to fight for it," said the Leeds coach, Brian McDermott. "Hull KR came with a lot of resilience. They didn't go away. I thought their intensity would drop off but it didn't." Indeed, the champions were heading for only their third opening-day defeat of the Super League era when they trailed 12-10 after 56 minutes. However, Watkins struck twice in five minutes to restore their lead and pounced again eight minutes from the end to complete his treble.
Danny McGuire added a late try to create a final score that was harsh on Hull KR, who shrugged off the absence of last year's player of the year Blake Green and newly-appointed captain Ben Galea.
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