Rugby League: Leeds come of age with stunning show

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The Independent Online
Leeds 16 Wigan 8

A TRY from their substitute, Andy Hay, set up victory for Leeds in a match that showed they really have come of age as formidable opponents even for the very best.

The two sides last night looked exactly what they are - the two best in Super League - but it is Leeds two points clear at the top this morning, as they thoroughly deserve to be on the balance of play in front of a wildly excited 18,000 capacity crowd at Headingley.

The ground has seen this corner apparently turned before, only for disillusionment to set in later, but this Leeds side has a sterner, stronger, more solid look about it.

There was no question that they dominated the first half-hour, putting Wigan under pressure from the start, forcing a couple of early errors that kept them on the attack. They had got their reward when Iestyn Harris showed strength more often seen in a prop forward to hold off three tacklers and slip the ball for Brad Godden to score.

Leeds were hurting their opponents in the tackle, but they were doing so legitimately and when Wigan got a rare glimpse of the try line, Darren Fleary's low challenge sliced down Henry Paul.

Leeds were close to further points both when Harris hit a post with a penalty and when Tony Kemp got over the line only to be held up by Danny Moore and Kris Radlinski. They did add to their lead when Mick Cassidy was penalised for ripping the ball from Ritchie Blackmore and Tony Kemp added a drop goal to Harris's penalty to edge them further in front.

Leeds suffered a setback when Marc Glanville was carried off unconscious after his head hit Neil Cowie's shoulder as he went in to make a tackle and was later taken to hospital for observation.

In the last 10 minutes of the half, Wigan also began to show signs of finding their rhythm. Gary Connolly was twice cut down on his way to the line and it took a desperate Harris tackle to carry Radlinski into the flag before he could touch down.

They finally got on the scoreboard when, even though Andy Farrell's pass to Moore saw the centre caught by Harris, Anthony Farrell tackled from offside to concede the penalty and Wigan's first two points, also getting himself sinbinned.

Less than two minutes into the second half, they had their first try, Andy Farrell's long ball finding Tony Smith who turned it inside for Simon Houghton to stride 40 yards and score. Farrell missed the goal but soon landed one to put Wigan in the lead for the first time when Fleary was caught lying on Denis Betts.

Wigan seemed to have weathered the worst that Leeds could throw at them in retaliation when they survived the 10 minutes that Betts spent in the sinbin after Ryan Sheridan had narrowly failed to score.

With Leeds spurning drop goal opportunities and Wigan's defence holding firm, it looked as though one point might just be enough. That was until Harris, moved again to scrum half late in the game, sent Hay cracking over. His conversion and a drop goal from Kemp made the margin a try and a goal and Harris's late penalty clinched it.

"It doesn't come much better than that," said the Leeds coach, Graham Murray. "This was a real test and a challenge to every player and we came through it with credibility. They showed those people here tonight that they are a tough football team and that they wanted to win very badly."

His opposite number, John Monie, contemplating another defeat two weeks after his disappointment at Wembley, called it "a good tough game of rugby league. I didn't enjoy the result but I enjoyed the game. We defended very well but we were beaten by a better side on the night."

Leeds: Harris; Sterling, Blackmore, Godden, Cummings; Kemp, Sheridan; Masella, Lawford, Fleary, Morley, Anthony Farrell, Glanville. Substitutes used: Powell, Mathiou, Hay, St Hilaire.

Wigan: Radlinski; Gilmour, Connolly, Moore, Robinson; Paul, Smith; Cowie, McCormack, Mestrov, Betts, Cassidy, Andy Farrell. Substitutes used: Houghton, Holgate, Johnson.

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).