Wigan Warriors 0 Leeds Rhinos 8: Rhinos’ defensive masterclass gets the job done
AFTER WAITING eight years to win at Wigan Warriors, Leeds Rhinos have now done it twice inside a month – and not conceded a point in the process.
Last night’s 8-0 triumph in the opening round of the play-offs was even more impressive than August’s 14-0 league success – an outstanding display of guts, character and defensive resolve which will belong remembered by everyone of a blue and amber persuasion in the 7,396 crowd.
After a scoreless opening 40, Rhinos took the lead with a converted try 10 into the second period and held on to that until six minutes from time when a penalty completed their scoring.
Wigan could have no real complaints. Though they had much of the territory, they rarely looked like breaking Rhinos down.
The win – Leeds’ first in a play-off since the 2017 Grand Final – is likely to earn them a trip to Catalans Dragons next Thursday, unless Hull KR pull off a shock at Warrington Wolves today.
That will be another huge challenge, but if Leeds can reproduce last night’s effort, they have a real chance – and after they lost four of their opening five games who would have expected Rhinos to be within 80 minutes of Old Trafford?
Attacking chances were few and far between, but Leeds gave everything they had defensively.
They weren’t just strong, they were smart as well, reading the play and shutting down Wigan’s attacking threats.
Their try came out of the blue, from a kick and they didn’t create an opportunity with ball in hand, other than a couple of close-range charges by Brad Dwyer and Matt Prior.
But Wigan didn’t either and Leeds managed the final half an hour, when Wigan had to chase the game, really well.
The league meeting a month ago was scoreless until the 37th minute and the opening period this time was even tighter, with neither team getting over the other’s line or really threatening to.
Rhinos had a couple of early penalties, both for high tackles.
Tom Briscoe passed into touch from the first and off the second, some terrific defence shoved Zak Hardaker back into goal to force a drop out, but Bodene Thompson knocked on in the resulting set.
Other than those opportunities, both in the first 10 minutes, and from a kick in the final moments, Leeds didn’t apply any pressure close to the hosts’ line.
Wigan were more direct throughout the first half, but the end to their sets was poor.
Rhinos dealt comfortably with Wigan’s kicking game and on the only occasion a Leeds defender – Ash Handley – didn’t take the ball cleanly, he was tackled in the air, winning a penalty.
Two of the four forwards who were declared fit during the week were recalled to Rhinos’ 17.
Zane Tetevano came straight back into the starting lineup after his three match ban and Mikolaj Oledzki – out for eight with a toe injury – returned among the substitutes.
Alex Mellor warmed up before the game and could be in contention for the semi-final.
Oledzki replaced Tetevano after 23 minutes and his first touch was a knock on in the set from an offside penalty in Leeds’ half. He was very strong after that and won the decisive penalty. Wigan showed some invention five minutes before the interval, after a forward pass by Kruise Leeming just inside Rhinos territory.
Harry Smith kicked early in the count, with Hardaker chasing, but the ball bounced back towards Wigan and Handley, bravely, managed to drop on it.
He needed treatment after John Bateman slid in, but managed to play on.
Willie Isa put his body on the line in similar fashion when Leeming kicked on the last with Handley in pursuit.
Dwyer was halted just short at the start of the second half and in that set Leeming hurled a long pass to Rhinos’ right which Rhyse Martin knocked on, though if he hadn’t got a hand to it, Liam Marshall would have intercepted with 80 metres of open space between him and Leeds’ line.
At the end of the resulting set Richie Myler spilled a high kick, but Rhinos’ defence held out and Cameron Smith hung on when Hastings hoofed the ball straight at him on the last.
Wigan fluffed another chance moments later when Harry Smith spilled a pass from Bateman in front of Rhinos’ posts.
The deadlock was finally broken at the end of the following set. Leeming put up a kick on the last which Myler knocked to Handley and the winger had a walk in.
Martin added the two to give Leeds a 6-0 lead with 28 minutes left. Ten minutes from time, Marshall knocked-on 20 metres out, but Leeming couldn’t hit the target with a drop goal attempt early in the count. Wigan, though, turned the ball over on half way and when Oledzki drove the ball in, it was ripped out by Oliver Partington directly in front of the posts.
Martin took the two to make it 8-0 with six left.
Wigan might have pulled six back if Joe Shorrocks had been able to hold on after Myler’s kick was charged down, but the chance went begging and Leeds held on for a famous and thoroughly- deserved win.
It wasn’t a night for individual achievement, but Handley was superb, the entire pack stood up brilliantly and Leeming highlighted what a fine player he is becoming, both at scrum-half and after shifting to hooker.
Leeds won the penalty count six-three (four-two in the first half) and both teams had one six-again.