LEEDS RHINOS were denied a deserved point at Wigan Warriors last night by the final kick of the game.
Rob Burrow’s try and a fourth conversion by Kevin Sinfield levelled the scores with two minutes left and Leeds looked capable of winning it when Carl Ablett broke free 40 metres from his own line.
But referee Richard Silverwood – who had already made two hugely controversial decisions in Wigan’s favour – awarded the home team a penalty for an obstruction by Paul Aiton and Matty Smith kicked the goal to give Wigan a 26-24 victory.
A draw would have been a fair result. Leeds were the better team, but Wigan’s excellent defence kept them in it.
Rhinos were unfortunate to trail 18-12 at the break after playing some exciting rugby in an end-to-end first half.
The difference was a decision by Silverwood and his video assistants to rule out what looked like a perfectly good try by Danny McGuire.
There was also a doubt over Wigan’s try at the start of the second half, which came after the hosts were awarded the feed at a scrum, despite what seemed to be a Warriors knock-on.
Leeds had a right to feel upset at some of the decisions, but they were also made to pay for their own errors.
They turned the ball over too cheaply at times, but some of their defence was outstanding and overall it was a good Leeds performance which would have secured the points on another day.
This was Wigan’s second win over Leeds, in three meetings this year, but Rhinos will be confident they can turn the tables at Headingley in the Super-8s, if they manage to win their two remaining home games and finish top after the weekly rounds.
Rhinos will hope to be back nearer full-strength by then, after being without three players – the suspended Zak Hardaker and injured pair Stevie Ward and Mitch Garbutt – who had featured in last week’s big win over St Helens.
Hardaker is one of the best players in the competition and Ward has been in outstanding form this year.
Garbutt had been due to make his second appearance for Leeds, but missed out after tweaking his back ahead of Thursday’s final training run.
With Kallum Watkins taking over at full-back, Jimmy Keinhorst moved from the second-row – where he had been so effective in the previous two games – into his more recognised position of centre. Brett Delaney stepped up off the bench to start in the second-row, alongside Carl Ablett, who had been at No 13 against Saints.
Leeds had a scare midway through the first half when Delaney needed treatment after a tackle involving Tony Clubb, who was third man in, but he recovered to play on.
Adam Cuthbertson, among the substitutes last week, started at loose-forward and was back to his early-season best, bamboozling Wigan with some amazing offloads, particularly to Danny McGuire.
Brad Singleton, Josh Walters and Andy Yates were all recalled on the bench.
Rhinos had some early pressure, but their last-tackle options were poor. The pressure came courtesy of a strong defensive effort, but that was undone by an astonishing run from Wigan full-back Matty Bowen, who seems to specialise in playing well against Leeds.
He couldn’t quite go all the way and Leeds survived a drop-out and penalty before countering to open the scoring after 10 minutes.
Jamie Peacock began the attack before Cuthbertson’s wonderful offload sent McGuire away. A penalty kept the pressure on and, after Keinhorst – who had a good game – had gone close, Aiton plunged over from acting-half. Sinfield converted, but Rhinos were behind within seven minutes.
The lead lasted only four as Wigan levelled with their second attack. George Williams supplied Dan Sarginson, whose pass sent Joe Burgess on a run, he kicked infield and Liam Farrell picked up to go over, Smith adding the extras.
In the next set, McGuire was penalised for a foul on John Bateman and that led to Wigan’s second try, O’Loughlin having too much power for Watkins from a pass by Smith, whose goal made it 12-6.
Aiton has had a good season for Leeds after his problems last year, when he struggled with illness and didn’t really get chance to settle in.
He is becoming a master of the intercept and he snatched Joel Tomkins’ offload to set up the levelling score on 27, scored by Brad Singleton from Cuthbertson’s outstanding pass close to the line.
Sinfield converted and Leeds got over the line again moments later, through McGuire after a dazzling passage of play, but referee Silverwood called no try and his video assistants Ian Smith and James Child saw no reason to disagree, Watkins being penalised for obstruction.
Surely, for it to be an obstruction, somebody has to be obstructed? Nobody was. It was a harsh decision – reverting to the bad old days of last season, when all a defender had to do was wave his arms around and a touchdown would be ruled out – and the sort of thing which rarely goes visiting teams’ way at DW Stadium. But the try which gave Wigan their interval lead was entirely Leeds’ fault.
Ablett knocked on deep in Rhinos territory and on the final tackle following the scrum, Williams kicked over the line and Bowen collected to score a try which Smith converted.
Kylie Leuluai and Ryan Hall both went close for Leeds at the start of the second period, but Wigan went further in front on 50 when Bowen made a fine break and then Smith chipped to the corner for Josh Charnley to collect and score.
Wigan seemed lucky to get the feed from the scrum which led to that, but Rhinos had a stroke of fortune moments later when Michael McIlorum broke clear with support, but knocked-on in McGuire’s last-ditch tackle.
Wigan were then penalised for offside from the scrum and in the resulting set, after Cuthbertson’s offload allowed McGuire to make good ground – Sinfield kicked to the corner and Ash Handley read it well to run through and touch down.
Sinfield added the extras from wide out, but it took a try-saving tackle by Handley on Sarginson to keep the gap to six points.
Leeds kept their composure and deserved their equalising score, which came after a repeat set, drop out and penalty.
Unfortunately there was still time for the story of the game to be all about the referee, rather than two fully-committed teams.
The penalty count finished 8-5 in favour of the home team. (4-2 to Wigan in the first half).