LEEDS RHINOS showed more signs of improvement against Wigan Warriors at Emerald Headingley last night, but not enough to secure a third successive win.
The 23-14 scoreline was harsh on Leeds, Wigan’s last try coming after the final hooter, and the game was in the balance throughout, but Leeds should have made more of some spells of heavy pressure.
In front of a 13,105 crowd it was a thrilling game and Rhinos played a lot better than they have for much of this season, but some silly mistakes and wrong options cost them.
The game was played at a high intensity and Leeds’ defence is improving, but their kicking game remains poor and let Wigan off the hook too often. The visitors led 11-8 at the interval, Leeds having hit back from 10-2 down. It was one try each, but a couple of penalties and a drop goal on the final play were the difference.
Rhinos went ahead soon after the break, but a try on the hour restored Wigan’s advantage and Leeds couldn’t make the crucial breakthrough despite some bombarding the visitors’ line for a spell.
Leeds’ execution was not sharp enough, but credit also goes to a fine defensive effort by Wigan against an adverse penalty count.
Rhinos were unchanged for the first time this season after Jack Walker, who had been expected to return at full-back, again failed a fitness test on his hamstring problem.
Tui Lolohea continued at full-back, but will be unavailable next week after being named in Tonga’s squad for their Test against New Zealand in Auckland.
Rhinos created the first chance, after six minutes, from a scum close to their line. Tom Briscoe’s pass sent Richie Myler scorching into space, but Wigan’s defence managed to shut down both him and Lolohea, who was in support.
Brad Dwyer almost got over from acting-half in the same set, but crashed into a post and then Brett Ferres knocked on.
After 13 minutes Lolohea picked up a kick near his own line, but decided to go down the blindside and was tackled into touch by Joe Burgess.
Following the scrum Rhinos were fortunate to escape when Sam Powell was held up from acting-half and then Tony Clubb forced his way over, but referee Chris Kendall indicated no try and video assistant Ben Thaler awarded a penalty for an obstruction by Powell.
This was the first of three successive penalties and Liam Sutcliffe converted the last of those – after a high tackle by Sean O’Loughlin on Dwyer – to give Leeds the lead. They might have increased it in the next set, but Trent Merrin could not hold on to Dwyer’s pass.
Wigan went in front at the start of the second quarter when Rhinos were penalised for breaking too early from a scrum.
The kick took Wigan into Leeds’ territory and Oliver Gildart got outside Harry Newman from George Williams’ pass to score a try which Chris Hankinson converted. It was exactly the sort of touchdown Leeds’ interim-coach coach Rich Agar had warned about before the game.
On 26 minutes Ferres was penalised on the last tackle for interference against O’Loughlin and Hankinson took the two.
Leeds have been on the wrong end of some debatable decisions in games refereed by Kendall – supposedly now one of Super League’s top whistlers – this season. There was another one on 31 minutes when Morgan Smithies shoved Merrin, who was at marker and the penalty went to the visitors, Hankinson again taking the two.
That came after Adam Cuthbertson was adjudged to have knocked on as he played the ball, when he felt he should have received a penalty for interference. That call looked right.
What everyone wants from referees is consistency. Six minutes before the interval Rhinos received a penalty for interference on Lolohea and they scored in the resulting set.
Cuthbertson had replaced Ava Seumanufagai, who turned in a strong early stint and he made the breakthrough, finishing powerfully from Dwyer’s pass. Sutcliffe added the extras and Leeds should have at least been level at the break when they got a repeat set close to Wigan’s line, but this time the interference went unpunished.
Instead Wigan extended their advantage though Leeds had only themselves to blame, Powell booting a drop goal as the hooter sounded following a knock-on by Cuthbertson in Rhinos’ half. Some terrific defence from Wigan kept Cuthbertson out in the early stages, Dan Sarginson and Liam Farrell pulling him down when it looked like he might score from Ash Handley’s pass. That came after a thrilling run by Newman.
Dwyer was fired up to make an impression on his hometown club and he fashioned out the try that nudged Leeds back in front on 50 minutes, his quick pass from acting-half sending over Merrin.
With Sutcliffe having gone off for a head injury assessment moments earlier, Lolohea added the extras. Again the try came in a penalty set for interference on Konrad Hurrell.
Dwyer was held up over the line after Merrin and James Donaldson had forced a knock on from Powell and at that stage Leeds had their tails up.
A brilliant kick return by Lolohea kept the pressure on, but Rhinos could not find a way through some strong defence and it was Wigan who got the crucial next try, with 20 minutes left.
Lolohea was tackled into touch trying to get out of the in-goal and, instead of a drop-out, Wigan had the feed at a scrum 10 metres out. They made the opportunity count through Oliver Partington, who stormed between the posts from Farrell’s pass. Hankinson’s fourth goal made it 17-14.
Rhinos almost got back in front when Seumanufagai got over the line from Donaldson’s pass, but he was held up.
With seven minutes left it looked like Merrin had scored. Kendall thought so, but Thaler thought otherwise and Leeds’ last opportunity had gone.
As the hooter sounded Lolohea tried a chip and chase from inside his own half, but Clubb picked up and went over for Wigan – though it looked like he dropped the ball – and Hankinson maintained his 100 per cent record with the boot.
The penalty count finished nine-six in Leeds’ favour (five-four to Wigan in the first half).