LEEDS RHINOS were left kicking themselves as Wigan Warriors staged a late rally to end their barren run at Emerald Headingley.
Leeds were two scores clear with 17 minutes to go, but a converted try, penalty and drop goal secured Wigan’s first win at Headingley since 2012.
The game was as tight as the 9-8 scoreline suggests, but it was a very poor result for Rhinos who should have been good enough to put the game to bed, but failed to apply a killer touch.
On the positive side, there was an all-action display from Stevie Ward and another big effort by Richie Myler. Ryan Hall was strong at the back and another bonus was Adam Cuthbertson’s return from long-term injury.
It was a scrappy, if hard-fought, game – between two evenly-matched sides – marred by too many errors and penalties.
There was only one try in the first half, Rhinos scoring it midway through a period which their defence dominated.
Rhinos also had one ruled out by the officials and Wigan rarely looked like getting on the scoreboard.
Leeds’ handling was better and they could perhaps made more of spells of pressure, but Wigan also defended strongly.
Wigan were reduced to 12 men for 10 minutes just after the break and Rhinos immediately missed a chance to extend their narrow advantage.
Leeds began making errors in the second period – as Wigan won a series of penalties – but more strong defence kept the hosts’ line intact and they went 8-0 ahead with a penalty goal at the start of the final quarter.
Wigan replied with seven minutes to go, cutting the gap to just two points and that was wiped out three minutes later, before Sam Tomkins landed a well-struck one-pointer to win it.
Rhinos had to dig deep in the opening moments when a penalty and repeat set had Wigan camped on their line.
The visitors should have scored when they shifted the ball right, but Liam Marshall could not hold on to John Bateman’s pass a few metres out.
Rhinos had a good spell after that, with a couple of penalties and some scoots from Matt Parcell getting Wigan back-pedalling.
Referee Ben Thaler and his video assistant Robert Hick ruled against Leeds after 15 minutes when a kick by Richie Myler rebounded off George Williams to Kallum Watkins.
The ball came loose and was touched down by Jamie Jones-Buchanan, but the officials decided Watkins had knocked on in Sam Tomkins’ tackle.
Marshall knocked on 25 metres out to concede a scrum and then Ward – in his 100th Super League appearance – was tackled high by Tony Clubb.
It was an easy two points, but Leeds took the tap and Myler floated a pass over Wigan’s defence to the in-form Tom Briscoe who crossed at the corner. Watkins landed a touchline conversion.
Marshall touched down at the other end, but Bateman had knocked on first from George Williams’ kick.
Then the visitors created an opening on the last, but Williams’ pass was dropped by Sam Tomkins.
Rhinos wasted a golden chance five minutes before the break, after Dan Sarginson knocked on on the first tackle 20 metres from his own line, but an obstruction following the scrum let the visitors off the hook.
A couple of minutes before the break Oliver Gildart looked set to dash clear, but a superb tackle from Myler dragged him down.
Wigan scrum-half Sam Powell was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle on Ashton Golding at the start of the second half and Leeds should have scored in the set from the penalty when Parcell, Carl Ablett and Adam Cuthbertson stretched the defence, Watkins ran into a gap and turned the ball to Myler, but he knocked-on with the line begging.
Moments after that, Parcell had a run and then Cuthbertson’s pass found Moon, but he also dropped the ball.
Wigan had the better of Powell’s remaining time in the bin, forcing a couple of drop-outs, at one of which the Leeds players were showered with beer and other missile as they waited on the their line – but knocking on in the resulting set. Joel Tomkins almost forced his way over, but Myler made another crucial tackle.
Rhinos should have had an opportunity to go two points further in front when Sean O’Loughlin caught Ash Handley around the face, but the officials didn’t see it.
On the hour Thaler went to the video ref to confirm Golding had scrambled Sam Tomkins’ kick dead. That came from a poor decision to award a penalty against Brad Singleton, but justice was done when O’Loughlin’s forward pass in the set from the restart was spotted by Thaler.
Rhinos, against the run of play, went two scores ahead with 17 minutes left. Sarginson was penalised for interference 20 metres out, midway in from touch and Watkins landed the difficult kick.
But Wigan got back into it on 73 minutes when Gildart touched down in the corner and Sam Tomkins landed a superb goal. The visitors almost struck in the next set when Gildart backed up Ryan Sutton’s blistering break, but Golding got back to make the try-saving tackle.
Wigan levelled with four minutes left through a Sam Tomkins penalty after a high tackle by Delaney on Powell 15 metres out, then Tomkins won it with a drop goal in the next set.
Thaler blew the pea out of his whistle for most of the game, but ignored some interference by Wigan in the final seconds – when a Leeds penalty would have snatched it – and Myler was wide with a drop goal attempt after Moon had one charged down.
Cuthbertson was back on the bench for his first appearance since breaking a hand in The World Club Challenge two months ago. Moon returned at stand-off for his 150th Rhinos appearance, after missing last Sunday’s win at Wakefield due to illness. He replaced Liam Sutcliffe who suffered a recurrence of his foot injury on his comeback at Belle Vue.
Brett Ferres was also back, after a one-game absence, at prop, so Jamie Jones-Buchanan shifted into the second-row.
Anthony Mullally was recalled among the substitutes and teengers Mikolaj Oledzki and Cameron Smith both kept their place.
Josh Walters dropped out, unluckily after his try-scoring performances in the past two games, along with Brett Ferres and Brad Dwyer.
Still on the casualty list are Jack Walker, Nathaniel Peteru, and Mitch Garbutt.
Not for the first time in a game between these sides, a male streaker interrupted proceedings, just before the break. He was allowed to wander around unmolested for a while before stewards intervened.
The penalty count was 12-11 to Wigan (seven-five in Leeds’ favour in the opening half).
Rhinos under-19s face Widnes Vikings at Stanningley today (noon).