The Rhinos dominated the game for long periods but were only able to breathe easily when England winger Ryan Hall scored their fourth try five minutes from the end and Rob Burrow kicked the touchline conversion.
The defeat dents the Wildcats' play-off hopes but they will derive enough confidence from an error-strewn show to believe they can turn the tables in next Friday's re-match at the Rapid Solicitors Stadium.
The Rhinos hope to have their skipper Kevin Sinfield back by then and his calming influence was sorely missed tonight as the champions failed to make the most of a lion's share of possession.
Their star-studded threequarter line came to Leeds' rescue, scoring all four tries, with winger Ben Jones-Bishop grabbing two of them before half-time.
Successful 40-20 kicks from Liam Sutcliffe and the outstanding Burrow enabled Leeds to pile on the early pressure but a combination of poor handling and resolute Wakefield defence ensured a scoreless first quarter.
The Rhinos were determined to play an up-tempo game despite the soaring temperatures and, after a short drinks break, they were rewarded with the game's first try on 23 minutes.
Jamie Peacock and Burrow worked the ball out to the right where Sutcliffe and centre Kallum Watkins produced quick hands to get Jones-Bishop over for his first score.
Wakefield were determined not to be blown away, however, and they quickly struck back.
Zak Hardaker pulled off a fine last-ditch tackle to deny loose forward Kyle Trout after he had been put in the clear by a clever Tim Smith pass but the Wildcats maintained the pressure and it paid off when Smith's grubber kick rebounded off the boot of Jones-Buchanan into the path of replacement prop Andy Raleigh for a simple try.
Lee Smith's goal edged the visitors into a 6-4 lead but Jones-Bishop collected Sutcliffe's precision kick to the corner to claim his second try and Burrow, taking over the goalkicking from Hardaker, added the touchline conversion to make it 10-6 at the break.
Wakefield did not help themselves with a host of handling errors early in the second half while Leeds continued to chance their arm without being able to find the finishing to match their ambition.
Jones-Bishop was bundled into touch by Ben Cockayne in one corner while at the other Hall was deceived by a high pass from his centre Joel Moon.
Wakefield suffered a body blow when in-form skipper Danny Kirmond hobbled off on 47 minutes and they slipped further behind eight minutes later when Moon accepted Burrow's cut-out pass and side-stepped past winger Peter Fox for Leeds' third try.
Leeds also suffered a major injury blow when Watkins hobbled off 15 minutes from the end and they were forced to endure a nervous last 10 minutes when former player Ali Lauitiiti took Tim Smith's short pass to score Wakefield's second try.
Lee Smith's second goal closed the gap to just two points but Hall made sure of the Rhinos' win when he touched down Burrow's kick to the corner.
Burrow's touchline conversion proved crucial as Cockayne regained possession for Wakefield from the re-start to set up the position for second rower Frankie Mariano to crash over for his side's third try, to which Lee Smith added the goal.
Widnes teenager Adam Lawton helped himself to a hat-trick as the Vikings completed the Super League double over London with a 38-12 win.
The Vikings' academy products grabbed five of the night's tries as Lawton's hat-trick was backed up by a double from young winger Jack Owens.
The home side were 16-0 up at the break and in control but had to fend off a mini second-half rival from the bust-up Broncos to secure victory.
The visitors were without star five-eighth Jamie Soward (fatigue), stand-off Michael Witt (calf), captain Tony Clubb (knee) and winger Michael Robertson (hip and knee).
Coach Tony Rea, perhaps with one eye on the Challenge Cup semi-final with Wigan next week, threw in on-loan forward Jacob Fairbank, who was ineligible to play against Sheffield last week, to his starting 13, while centre Ryan Shaw, who has joined on loan from Swinton, was handed a debut.
Widnes were still without second-row Gareth Hock (hamstring) and Ben Cross (calf) but they didn't need them thanks to a decent first-half showing and a lacklustre London one. It was the Vikings who broke the deadlock after nine minutes when Joe Mellor combined with Rhys Hanbury who sent in youngster Owens on the right flank.
The conversion was pulled wide by Owens but Widnes kept up the pressure and possession yet could not make it pay. The game was flat, with errors from both sides, and a knock to the head of Broncos hooker Ben Fisher did not do much for the continuity but Widnes pressed through pivot Kevin Brown although they could not find the killer pass.
London came back temporarily through makeshift scrum-half Tommy Lee but they looked disjointed in attack. Widnes could have stretched their lead just before the half-hour as Hanbury cut the Broncos defensive line in two but his pass to Pat Ah Van was a poor one - the home side fluffing a perfect try scoring opportunity.
They did make one count minutes later, though, as Mellor raced on to Ben Kavanagh's offload for a walk in and Owens added the extras from in front. Widnes had stepped up in gear and London were in reverse when Lawton ran a delightful line off Brown's pass to power over.
Owens' conversion made it 16-0 at the break and it could have been more as London looked pedestrian for large parts of the half.
The Brown-Lawton combination worked immediately after the restart when the former dabbed through for the big back-rower to pounce for Widnes' fourth score. London hit back with a rare attack and a decent phase of of play that concluded with ex-Viking Shane Grady going over.
Shaw hit the conversion and then went over for a converted try himself to put London within two scores. The should have made it a third minutes later as Liam Colbon raced 80 metres but Widnes centre Stef Marsh made unbelievable ground up to pull off an extraordinary tackle with the ball about to be planted down.
The Vikings came back with some determination and they cemented the victory with a well-worked try out wide that was finished off by Owens. Hep Cahill went over with 10 minutes left to put the icing on the cake and the stage was left for Lawton to have the final word with a typical bruising effort.
Bradford rescued some hope of reaching the Super League play-offs for the first time in five years by coming from behind to claim a nail-biting 19-12 victory over fellow top-eight hopefuls Hull.
The win brought to an end a disastrous run of six straight defeats for the Bulls, while plunging the Black and Whites own play-off hopes into doubt.
Hull qualified for next weekend's Tetley's Challenge Cup semi-finals with a tenacious victory at Catalan Dragons the previous Saturday but have now lost their last five league games.
Bradford, celebrating the return of five key players from injury, are now just two points behind them.
The result was only the Bulls second win in 11 games, yet Hull made the brighter start and went ahead after 12 minutes when Tom Briscoe cut diagonally off the wing from a Kirk Yeaman pass to touchdown between the posts.
Danny Tickle converted with the first of his two goals and the scoreboard remained at 0-6 until just before the half-hour mark, although both sides spurned opportunities.
The simultaneous introduction from the bench of Heath L'Estrange and Jarrod Sammut, who had been out injured for seven weeks, sparked Bradford into life.
Good work from L'Estrange set up the position for Sammut to kick to the corner then follow up to collect once more and dive over when the ball bounced loose from a melee of players who attempted to claim it from the air.
Jamie Foster, who was largely responsible for recycling the ball for the try, converted from out wide to level the scores.
Minutes later Adrian Purtell burst clear, having latched onto a wayward but awkwardly bouncing Luke Gale pass, and enabled the supporting Elliot Kear to score and put the hosts ahead, Foster again adding the extras with the second of his three goals.
Bradford's 12-6 lead lasted until 12 minutes into the second half when Tickle charged onto Danny Houghton's pass and through a ruck of defenders to score, then converted his own try.
The Bulls were then forced into some desperate scrambling defence and weathered numerous repeat sets near their own line before a Sammut 40-20 gave them some welcome respite.
Twice the Bulls got in a position for a decisive drop goal but lost possession through careless handling while Hull had one rousing spell as the game drifted into its closing stages.
Finally with five minutes to go, Luke Gale landed a vital one-pointer for Bradford. Matt Diskin then muscled his way over in the final minute to ensure an end to the Bulls' long winless run.
Catalan Dragons were unable to bounce back from their Tetley's Challenge Cup quarter-final home defeat by Hull as they crashed to their fourth loss in five matches, going down 18-12 at Salford.
Salford turned in a battling defensive show to seal a hard-fought victory by three tries to two. Andrew Dixon, Danny Williams and Stephen Wild crossed for the hosts, with Elliott Whitehead and Remi Casty getting the Dragons' scores.
The Dragons made several changes after their cup defeat, with Leon Pryce, Damien Blanch, Mickael Simon and Jamal Fakir missing and Julian Bousquet suspended. But ex-Bradford forward Whitehead, recently linked with a move to Salford, was back after being cup-tied against Hull, with call-ups too for William Barthau and Thibaut Margalet.
Salford, who were hammered 40-6 at Catalan in February, were aiming to end a run of four defeats in their last five matches and led 6-0 at the break thanks to Dixon's try, converted by Marc Sneyd.
The Reds swept into a fourth-minute lead after a Williams surge allowed skipper Martin Gleeson to link up smartly to send Dixon over in the corner. Sneyd booted the touchline conversion. But Gleeson suffered a knee injury after creating the try and was forced to hobble off, to be replaced by Ashley Gibson.
Catalan struggled to break down a resolute defence and Lee Gaskell almost put Salford further ahead, but was held close to the line. The Reds, who had lost their last three home matches against Bradford, Wakefield and St Helens, opted to run two kickable penalties as they stepped up the tempo.
Zeb Taia was held up near the Reds line as Catalan hit back before the break. But Salford increased their advantage early in the second half after Darryl Millard fumbled Sneyd's kick and Gibson put Williams over in the corner to make it 10-0.
Then Whitehead raced on to Scott Dureau's pass after 54 minutes to score near the posts, with Thomas Bosc landing the conversion.
Salford replied when Wild latched onto Sneyd's kick to extend the lead to 16-6 with a converted try before Casty crashed over to cut the gap to four points.
Vincent Duport had a Dragons try disallowed for a forward pass in a nerve-jangling finale, with French referee Thierry Alibert placing several players on report following a mass brawl two minutes from time.
- Sports & Recreation
- Rob Burrow