Wigan Warriors 0 Leeds Rhinos 14: Defensive masterclass boosts Rhinos’ play-off hopes
A WONDERFUL defensive effort earned Leeds Rhinos a priceless and thoroughly deserved 14-0 win at Wigan Warriors tonight.
Leeds’ third straight victory lifted them two places to fifth in the Betfred Super League and was achieved despite them being a man down for a quarter of the game.
Rhinos scored two tries in 10 minutes either side of the break to go 12-0 up and once they’d added a penalty to that they were never in danger of letting the game slip, despite some Wigan pressure.
Boosted by the return of Matt Prior, Rhyse Martin and Cameron Smith – who all made a positive impact – the visitors grew in confidence as the game went on and in the end, the margin could have been greater.
This was Leeds’ first win in nine away games against Wigan, dating back to 2013 and to keep them scoreless was the icing on the cake.
It wasn’t a great attacking performance, but it was very gutsy.
Wigan forced a series of drop-outs and had some penalties in good field position, but Rhinos rarely looked like cracking.
They scrambled superbly and the willingness to work and cover for each other was outstanding.
It was a memorable evening for Brad Dwyer, who – with Kruise Leeming playing in the halves – started at hooker and scored the opening try against his hometown club.
Leeming was terrific again and Ash Handley had some big involvements, having recovered from a groin injury suffered against Huddersfield six days earlier, but it was a really solid team effort.
In truth, it wasn’t a high-quality game, but there was so much to admire about Leeds’ performance, particularly considering how many influential players are missing.
Wigan are also without a host of star men and it showed. They were really poor, but a lot of credit for that goes to Rhinos.
There were a couple of exciting moments in the scoreless opening 37 minutes.
Morgan Gannon made a break from Leeming’s pass, but there was no support and Joe Shorrocks split the Leeds defence, but his pass went behind Harry Smith.
Other than those half-chances, Rhinos created the only early spell of pressure, courtesy of a couple of Wigan knock-ons, but there wasn’t much creativity.
The visitors did show some flair on a last tackle play as Harry Newman and Luke Briscoe kept the ball alive, but Martin was tackled in possession.
There was nothing in it for the opening quarter, but Leeds were the better team over the final 20 minutes of the half, despite being a man down.
Zane Tetrevano was sin-binned for the second successive game, after 22 minutes, for a swinging arm on Liam Farrell.
Then, as he was prowling the touchline waiting to come back, Wigan received a penalty for offside, Jackson Hastings took a quick tap, Leeming managed to shut him down and Luke Briscoe was shown a yellow for preventing a quick play the ball.
Against 11 men Wigan turned down the easy two points, but Rhinos survived most of a set before Tetevano returned and then Newman made a terrific tackle to keep Oliver Gildart out. He also did well to halt Gildart when Wigan threatened after the half-time hooter.
By that stage Leeds, against the odds, were ahead. Wigan wasted their initial numerical advantage through a couple of poor kicks and a knock-on by John Bateman in a strong tackle by Rob Lui, who had a good game.
In fact, Rhinos went closest to scoring during that spell as Dwyer almost got over from acting-half and then Handley was pulled down just short, off a pass by the consistently excellent Myler.
Then after Briscoe was temporarily banished, Rhinos broke the stalemate with a try three minutes before the interval, through a fantastic chase by Wigan lad Dwyer.
Leeming’s smart grubber kick rebounded off a post and the Leeds hooker was on hand to pick up, making Martin’s conversion a formality.
Hastings dropped the ball cold in the set from a drop out soon after the break. Martin took a pass from Lui and simply accelerated into open space.
Myler was in support on his left shoulder and took the final ball to go over for a try which Martin improved.
Gannon made an excellent tackle to force a knock on from Amir Bourouh, who had just entered the action and in the resulting set the same Wigan man went high on King Vuniyayawa – who will be his teammate at Salford next year – to give Martin a gift two points to open a three-score gap with 23 minutes left.
There were a couple of scares after that, though Leeds had the game won.
Myler made an outstanding tackle on Brad Singleton when it looked like the ex-Leeds man would score as Wigan steadily built pressure, but their execution was poor, the ball twice going into touch on their left side when they seemed to have created some space.
Wigan did get over Leeds’ line with seven minutes left through Jake Bibby, but referee Robert Hicks thought he was held up – with Handley underneath him – and video assistant Liam Moore agreed.
Rhinos could have sealed it moments later through a stunning break by Leeming. He couldn’t get a pass away, but it didn’t matter.
At some stage this season Rhinos might get some key players back without losing another, but not last night.
Half-back Callum McLelland, who has been particularly unlucky even by Rhinos’ 2021 standards, was ruled out due to illness, six days after his best performance for the club in the win over Huddersfield.
The penalty count was eight-six in Wigan’s favour (five-three in the first-half).
Wigan received four six-agains, to Leeds’ three.