Leeds Rhinos 26 Wigan Warriors 12 - Agar's men head for Wembley after brilliant Challenge Cup semi-final win

Leeds Rhinos are through to their first Coral Challenge Cup final since 2015 after an emphatic 26-12 defeat of Wigan Warriors in monsoon conditions at St Helens.

By Peter Smith
Saturday, 3rd October 2020, 8:57 pm

Rhinos played outstanding wet weather rugby and were even more dominant than the 14-point margin suggests, all Wigan's scoring coming in the final five minutes.

Rhinos were near-perfect in the first half, when they had the elements in their favour and a 20-0 interval lead, in such awful conditions was going to take something special to overturn.

Leeds were up to the task and they grabbed the vital next try and were 26-0 ahead before Wigan regained some pride.

Rhyse Martin scores Rhinos opening try. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

It was an excellent all-round team performance by Rhinos, with captain and man of the match Luke Gale and half-back partner Rob Lui running the show behind a powerful pack effort.

Rhinos went ahead through a Rhyse Martin penalty goal after 13 minutes.

At that stage they had already had two chances, Mikolaj Oledzki being held up over the line and Joe Burgess tackling Tom Briscoe into touch just short.

Just three minutes later Luke Gale, in his career first Cup semi-final, landed a huge 40-20 and from that Rob Lui’s excellent pass found Martin who cut through a big gap inn the defence for a try which he also converted.

Ash Handley dives over for the first of his two tries against Wigan. Picture by Bruce Rollinson.

A third Martin goal, following a high tackle by Sean O’Loughlin on Matt Prior, made it 10-0 after close to a perfect opening 22 minutes from Leeds.

Eight minutes before the interval Gale kicked to Leeds’ left, Liam Sutcliffe batted the ball back and Richie Myler gathered and tipped the ball to Ash Handley, who touched down unopposed.

Video referee Ben Thaler confirmed the score and Martin booted the angled conversion to make it 16-0.

Alex Mellor was agonisingly close to extending the advantage further on 37 minutes, but Kendall and Thaler ruled he had not quite got to Martin’s grubber.

The ball was forced dead by French, conceding a drop-out and from that, on the final play of the ball Gale found Konrad Hurrell and his quick pass was finished at the corner by Briscoe.

There was no conversion, but Wigan needed to score four times in the final 40.

Dom Manfredi had a touchdown ruled out by Thaler - who spotted a knock-on by Thomas Leuluai in the build-up - after 49 minutes

Hurrell went over with 26 minutes left, from Gale’s pass off a Martin kick and Kendall

Indicated a try.

That would have sealed it, but Thaler instead penalised Rhinos for offside. A second penalty followed and Joe Greenwood slide over Leeds’ line, but was held up by Brad Dwyer, Myler and Martin.

With 13 minutes left Handley was held up over the line from Dwyer’s break - another decision which was handed upstairs.

At the end of that set, Gale’s kick was knocked on by French and Leeds finally applied the knockout blow as Dwyer and Gale worked the ball to the in-form Sutcliffe, he made it to the line before offloading and Handley stepped through to score.

Martin couldn’t land the kick, but booted a penalty soon afterwards following a ball steal and Rhinos were home, if not dry.

It would have been nice for Leeds to keep Wigan scoreless, but Harry Smith pounced on an error near his own line to race clear for a breakaway score with five minutes left, improved by Hardaker.

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Laura Collins