Wembley got a Challenge Cup final to remember, as Leeds threatened, but ultimately failed to stage the biggest comeback in the history of the showpiece. Leading by 16 points after a one-sided first half-hour, Wigan were made to fight all the way and what was billed in advance as the Sam Tomkins Final hinged instead on the more workmanlike qualities of the Kiwi prop, Jeff Lima, who trebled his try tally for the club in an all-action display.
"I was just in the right place at the right time," he said of winning the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match. "I just went out there to do my job."
The award could have gone to any one of a number of Wigan players. Sam Tomkins' match might be remembered more for the V-sign he flashed at Leeds' fans after the first try than for his moments of magic with the ball, but Josh Charnley and Lee Mossop deserve some sort of medal for playing on with a broken finger and a dislocated shoulder respectively. "This group has so much character, they just keep standing up for each other," said their coach, Michael Maguire.
The Leeds coach, Brian McDermott, answered any lingering doubts about his line-up by including both Kallum Watkins and Carl Ablett, despite his admission that they were less than 100 per cent fit.
Wigan preferred Liam Farrell to Gareth Hock on the bench. All eyes, however, were on Sam Tomkins. He figured prominently in the opening stages, twice almost splitting the Rhinos' defence wide open.
Wigan's first two tries came from glaring individual errors, the first when Danny McGuire kicked into touch on the full. They seized the chance, moving the ball swiftly to the right, for Joel Tomkins to supply the final pass to Charnley.
There was an even more embarrassing moment when a full-back of the calibre of Brent Webb fumbled a high kick from Sam Tomkins, without being under any pressure.
Again Wigan pounced on the gift of possession, the recently arrived substitute, Paul Prescott, slipping a gem of a short pass to put Lima over for only his second try for the club.
The best try of the lot was a Tomkins family special, Sam running the ball diagonally deep in his own territory and eventually releasing big brother Joel down the right wing. The elder Tomkins is really a second row, but the pace he showed in going 80 metres to touch down under the posts demonstrated just why he has been such a success at centre this season. Pat Richards kicked his third conversion and Wigan looked for all the world as though they would have the Cup won by half-time.
Fortunately, Leeds had other ideas and it was a beautifully engineered try that brought them back into the game. Kevin Sinfield worked an exchange of passes with Jamie Jones-Buchanan and Ablett got the ball away for Ryan Hall to score his 100th try.
Three minutes later, Watkins' quick hands sent Ben Jones-Bishop over. Sinfield kicked the goal and Leeds, astonishingly considering the balance of play, were only one score down at the interval.
Understandably, Wigan were a more nervous side in the second half, and when Ryan Hoffman lost the ball and Ablett battled his way over from Webb's pass, Leeds were only two points behind, but Sinfield missed a goal he would have expected to get.
Cruelly, Wigan were allowed to strike straight back when Lima was credited with his second try, despite an obvious forward pass from Mossop.
Leeds still came back bravely, with Hall's second score, from McGuire's cut-out pass. However three minutes from time, Farrell's quick play-the-ball allowed Thomas Leuluai to dart in for the clincher, awarded by the video referee, Steve Ganson, despite doubts over the grounding.
"We conceded too many easy tries," McDermott said. "We got ourselves back in the game and showed a huge amount of character." Sometimes, that is not quite enough.
Wigan S Tomkins; Charnley, J Tomkins, Carmont, Richards; Finch, Deacon; Lima, T Leuluai, Coley, Hansen, Hoffman, O'Loughlin. Substitutes used McIlorum, Mossop, Prescott, Farrell.
Leeds Webb; Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Ablett, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; K Leuluai, Buderus, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Delaney, Hauraki. Substitutes used Burrow, Kirke, Clarkson, Bailey.
Referee P Bentham (Warrington).Reuse content