Leeds choose to avoid Wigan in play-offs

Rugby league's attempt at introducing drama to semi-final draw fails as Rhinos surprise nobody by opting to play Catalans, writes Dave Hadfield
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The Independent Online

The Yorkshire puddings were getting crisp and burnt in the ovens of Leeds. The cassoulet was going cold in Catalonia as the Sunday lunchtime drama unfolded.

And all to confirm what everyone knew already: that Leeds will play Catalan Dragons in the Super League qualifying semi-final on Friday night.

That is precisely as it would have been if rugby league, that most restlessly innovative of sports, had never devised the ClubCall concept.

Under that new system, the highest placed club in the last four of the play-offs can choose between the two lower contenders.

The Rhinos, to listen to them yesterday, agonised over it for hours before their chief executive, Gary Hetherington, live on television opened the imaginary envelope like a presenter at the Oscars and revealed that they would play the eighth-placed Catalans rather than embrace the counter-attractions of Wigan.

"Our strategy was that, all things being equal, we would pick the lowest-ranked team, because the league table doesn't lie," said Hetherington to hoots of good-natured laughter as he tried to crank up the tension. He said the decision had been made by the Rhinos' coach, Brian McClennan, who has done his utmost to distance himself from any suggestion of choosing opposition he thinks will be relatively easy. "We gave it a lot of consideration," he said. "It's a 50-50 call really, because both teams have beaten us this year."

The Catalans' general manager, Christophe Levy, was one of many less than astonished by the choice. "It's not a big surprise," he said. "This can be an extra motivation to be picked like this and I'm sure our coach will find the right words on Friday."

The consequence of Leeds' decision is that Wigan will go to St Helens on Saturday – a game that can be guaranteed to send the victors to Old Trafford a week later nursing the wounds of a ferocious semi-final.

"It was a good choice and it's given us two great semi-finals," said the Wigan coach, Brian Noble. His side are still involved thanks to a generally impressive 30-16 victory at Hull KR on Saturday.

Wigan took an 18-0 lead in a first half they dominated with tries from George Carmont, Iafeta Palea'aesina and Pat Richards.

Rovers, in the playoffs for the first time, hit back after the break with tries from Kris Welham, Peter Fox and Chaz I'Anson. Having cut the deficit to two points, however, they were beaten by two tries from Martin Gleeson.

The last four: Dates and times

*Semi-finals

Friday: Leeds Rhinos v Catalan Dragons (8pm). Saturday: St Helens v Wigan Warriors (5.30pm).

*Grand final

Sat 10 October, Old Trafford (6pm).

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