Wigan Warriors 28 Leeds Rhinos 10 - Rhinos’ shortcomings exposed by Super League leaders
Wigan’s converted try just before the break, extending their lead to 12-4, was a painful blow to the nominal visitors, at St Helens’ Totally Wicked Stadium, but not necessarily fatal.
Rhinos did, though, need to score next. For 10 minutes they did all the pressing and forced a couple of drop-outs, but Wigan’s strong defence wasn’t really threatened, then Leeds were caught on the counter as the league leaders scored a try out of the blue.
Rhinos did well to get back in the contest after that and there was only six points in it with six minutes left.
Two late converted tries, after Leeds captain Luke Gale was sin-binned, flattered Wigan, but there’s no doubt the better side won.
It was an improvement from Leeds, but they are making too many errors and aren’t playing direct enough.
They look nothing like the free-scoring side they were before the coronavirus break, but have also been up against much better opposition and that probably reflects where they are at this stage - able to beat the lower teams, but not on terms with those towards the top of the table.
Rhinos had three escapes inside the opening 10 minutes, when Liam Farrell got over the whitewash but was penalised for a double-movement, then Willie Isa lost the ball as he charged towards the line and Dom Manfredi was pulled back for a foul on Tom Briscoe.
At the other end, video referee Chris Kendall overruled Robert Hicks after he had indicated a try for Luke Briscoe from Callum McLelland’s kick.
With Rob Lui still sidelined, McLelland got some more valuable gametime at stand-off. He looked composed and showed some nice touches, without being able to impose himself - something which should come with time.
Wigan finally got the try they had been threatening, with 15 minutes gone, when Farrell went over from Sam Powell’s pass close to the line.
Leeds’ first score for a game and a quarter shouldn’t have been given, Tom Briscoe having a foot on the whitewash before he grounded the ball.
That said, it came off a moment of magic from Matt Prior who drove the ball in right to the Wigan line, seemed to be wrapped up but somehow got a pass away to the left-wing.
Hicks awarded the score without checking with Kendall, but Rhyse Martin’s kick bounced away off a post.
Rhinos managed to get on the front foot for a spell after that, something they didn’t do at all in last week’s 48-0 loss to St Helens and managed only in the final 15 minutes of their win over Huddersfield Giants.
Briscoe was almost in again moments later, but the pass by Konrad Hurrell - who was back in the side after injury - went behind him into touch. There was a similar outcome from a similar opportunity just before the break and that proved costly as Wigan scored again moments later through Bevan French.
A kick by Liam Marshall held up, after Ash Handley looked to have it covered, Jake Bibby kicked on and the full-back touched down.
That was a clever score, if tough on Handley who - after being one of the few Leeds players to have anything approaching a good game last week - generally did well out of position at full-back.
A scuffle in back play proved a distraction as Wigan created an overlap and Hardaker put Dom Manfredi in for the vital first score of the second period, making it 16-4.
With 15 minutes remaining the game was back in the melting pot.
Liam Sutcliffe, who had just come off the bench for his first Leeds appearance since suffering a knee injury in their second game of the season, ran through a big gap from Gale’s pass and Martin converted.
Cuthbertson knocked-on in the set from the restart, but Dwyer and Mikolaj Oledzki held Powell up over the line.
Gale was then sin-binned and though Hardaker missed the subsequent penalty, an error by Luke Briscoe gifted a try to Bibby with five minutes left.
And, in the final seconds after Martin had been held up over Wigan’s line,- Jackson Hastings’ kick carved out a second try for French and Hardaker’s fourth goal completed the scoring.
Rhinos coach Richard Agar made a big call by dropping prop Ava Seumanufagai and giving teenager Tom Holroyd a first Super League start. He didn’t get much game time, but one strong charge indicated what he is capable of. New Zealand-born second-rower Bodene Thompson, signed during the week from Toronto Wolfpack on a short-term deal, was clearly keen to make a good impression and had a couple of half-chances, but knocked-on both times and suffered a cut head.
Kruise Leeming made his first start and Brad Dwyer had to wait until the 53rd minute to get off the bench, by which stage the game had gone.
Wigan gave a first appearance of the season, off the bench, to forward Joe Greenwood who had a spell on loan at Leeds earlier this year without playing a game.