LEEDS RHINOS’ two-year reign as Super League champions came to an end when they ran out of steam away to Wigan Warriors on September 27, 2013.
Having won the Grand Final from fifth place on the table in 2011 and 2012, Rhinos improved to third that season, but a succession of injuries took their toll and the qualifying semi-final at DW Stadium proved to be a game too far.
Leeds were well beaten at third-placed Warrington Wolves in the qualifying play-off, but bounced back with a thrilling 11-10 home win over St Helens the following week, which left them just one game away from a return to Old Trafford.
Eventual champions Wigan proved too strong, but Leeds went down with all guns blazing, giving their all in a fascinating tie.
It was 6-0 to the hosts at the interval, but Rhinos gave themselves hope when they levelled soon afterwards, only for two tries in five minutes to turn the game decisively in Wigan’s favour.
Even so, Wigan – who looked the fresher team having had the previous weekend off – could not feel safe until adding a fourth try eight minutes from time, before Leeds ran in a late consolation.
The only scoring of the first half happened early on.
Iain Thornley – a former Leeds Carnegie Rugby Union player – kept Wigan’s line intact with a stunning tackle to deny Ben Jones-Bishop, then crossed at the other end from a pass by Pat Richards, who also converted.
It stayed that way until the interval and Wigan, sensing Rhinos were beginning to run out of steam, went into the break in confident mood.
But that changed when Leeds struck soon afterwards, Carl Ablett carving Wigan open through the middle, drawing Sam Tomkins and then sending the supporting Joel Moon in for a fine try, which Kevin Sinfield improved.
At that stage it was anyone’s game, but Wigan regained the lead six minutes later through Joel Farrell, off good work by Michael McIlorum, Matty Smith and Blake Green – and then Darrell Goulding added another, from a kick by Smith.
Both were converted by Richards and the home side led 18-0.
Rhinos had overcome seemingly impossible odds in the previous two years, but not this time and Wigan sealed their place in the final in the closing stages when Josh Charnley went over for an unconverted try.
Leeds refused to give in and Liam Sutcliffe scored a late consolation, Sinfield’s goal making the final score 22-12.
Wigan Warriors 22
(Tries Thornley, Farrell, Goulding, Charnley. Goals Richards 3)
Leeds Rhinos 12 (Tries Moon, Sutcliffe. Goals Sinfield 2)
Wigan Warriors: S Tomkins, Charnley, Goulding, Thornley, Richards, Green, Smith, Mossop, McIlorum, Dudson, Hansen, Farrell, Flower. Subs Hughes, L Tomkins, Taylor, Crosby.
Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker, Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Moon, Hall, McGuire, Sinfield, Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Bailey. Subs Clarkson, Kirke, Achurch, Sutcliffe.
Referee: Phil Bentham