LEEDS RHINOS had to put some of the flair to one side, but they continued their winning run with a hard-fought 25-18 success over Wigan Warriors at Headingley Carnegie.
That avenged defeats in the previous two meetings and moved the First Utility Super-8s leaders four points clear of second-placed Wigan, with five games to play.
St Helens’ shock home loss to Hull made it an even better night for Rhinos, though another injury – to Mitch Achurch – took some of the gloss off.
It was a scrappy game and not quite as tense as the final scoreline suggests, Wigan scoring two late tries after Rhinos took their foot off the gas.
That said, Leeds had some good fortune with a couple of their tries and it did finish four tries each, only one of the visitors’ being converted while Kevin Sinfield kicked three conversions and a penalty.
Leeds scored three tries to one to lead by 16 points at the interval and were 25-8 ahead with eight minutes left.
Their first try came after the video referees overturned the onfield decision and the other two could both have been chalked out for knock-ons.
Leeds felt they were owed some decisions after last month’s defeat at DW Stadium and they did get the benefit of a few last night.
There was doubt about Wigan’s opening try in the second half
Rhinos went ahead after just three minutes, though Danny McGuire. He stretched over from Ryan Hall’s offload.
Referee Richard Silverwood indicated no try, but handed the decision on and after a ridiculously long delay video officials Phil Bentham and Tom Crashley overturned him.
Sinfield landed a towering touchline goal, but Wigan were on the scoreboard within five minutes.
George Williams grubbered over the line, Tom Briscoe couldn’t collect and Liam Farrell touched down.
Again Silverwood asked for help, this time guessing try. The video officials again took an age, before agreeing with Silverwood and deciding the Leeds winger hadn’t been shoved off the ball by Anthony Gelling.
Rhinos survived lost possession by Jamie Peacock, McGuire and Kallum Watkins, before extending their lead on 19 minutes.
Sinfield went close and lost the ball. Silverwood didn’t see it, Adam Cuthbertson fed McGuire from acting-half, he kicked through and Joel Moon read it well to slide through and touch down.
Sinfield converted Moon’s try and then booted another two points after a high tackle by Joel Tomkins on a hard-running Ward.
With Paul Aiton having played his final game for the club, due to the broken arm he suffered last week against Warrington, coach Brian McDermott sprung a surprise by naming prop Cuthbertson at hooker.
Nobody expected him to play there and it was Sinfield who took the acting-half duties until Rob Burrow came on early in the second half.
Also out from last week was Brett Delaney, due to an on-going hamstring problem.
Stevie Ward returned in the second-row after missing five games with an ankle problem and Brad Singleton started, swapping places with Jimmy Keinhorst, who dropped to the bench.
Achurch – who had wrist surgery following the loss to Wigan in May – was back on the bench, but lasted a matter of moments after being introduced early in the second quarter. He was immediately hurt trying to tackle John Bateman, received very lengthy treatment on the field and was stretchered off into the changing rooms. He was later taken to hospital as a “precaution”.
That was another blow for one of the unluckiest players in the game, reduced Rhinos to 16 available players and was another worry two weeks ahead of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final.
Leeds already have three players ruled out for the season and can’t afford many more long-term injuries as they bid for three trophies.
The spell after Achurch’s injury was a key period in the game. Wigan received two dubious penalties and a third which was fully justified, Kylie Leuluai having tripped Matty Bowen. Watkins seemed to have lifted the siege when he barged Dom Manfredi into touch, but Briscoe immediately knocked on.
Then Ryan Sutton looked a certain scorer, but was brilliantly halted by Zak Hardaker and Peacock.
Leeds received two penalties after that and with 22 seconds left in the half Sinfield kicked behind the defence and Ryan Hall ran through to touch down, rolling over the top of Josh Charnley.
Silverwood sent it upstairs as a try and after checking for a knock-on by Sinfield, the onside and grounding, the try was given. Leeds got away with that as Sinfield’s fumble after Hardaker’s offload has deflected off Ward, should have been called a knock-on. On half-way it would have been, but Silverwood and his back-up decided it had gone backwards.
The captain landed another touchline goal to make it 20-4 at the interval. Leeds knew they’d have the game if they scored next and they went close on a couple of occasions soon after the break, though one chance almost backfired when Sinfield’s pass was intercepted by Gelling, but Burrow made the tackle. There was no score in the second half until the 59th minute. Watkins counterattacked, but had the ball stolen by Gelling.
Bateman seemed to have wasted the attack when he knocked-on, but Leeds were called offside and Farrell went over in the resulting set.
It didn’t look like he had grounded it, but Silverwood said try and the video duo backed him up, though Matt Smith was again off-target with his kick.
Bowen was held up over the line by Keinhorst and that proved a crucial intervention. On Leeds’ next attacking set, McGuire shimmied into space and found Sinfield, who was pulled down just short.
Burrow swung the ball from acting-half to Watkins and he crashed through the defence for a well-taken try, though Sinfield’s conversion attempt rebounded away of a post.
Hardaker booted a drop goal moments later, but Wigan – playing for pride – finished strongly with tries by Bateman and Manfredi, Bowen converting the first of those. Ward turned in an encouraging shift for Rhinos and there was the usual massive effort from Cuthbertson, well backed-up by Mitch Garbutt and evergreen Jamie Peacock. Moon was outstanding and Hardaker again impressed. Overall it was a strong team display, the last 10 minutes apart and one of those occasions when Leeds proved they can do the tough stuff as well as play the flashy rugby. The penalty count finished 7-7 (5-4 in Wigan’s favour in the first half).