Sinfield takes Leeds back to Wembley
Leeds Rhinos 39 Wigan Warriors 28: Rhinos take spectacular revenge for their defeat in last year's cup final
Dave Hadfield was a schoolboy convert to rugby league, the game which, one way or another, has dominated his life ever since. After working for newspapers in Shropshire and Blackpool (where he covered the fortunes of Blackpool Borough) he travelled the world, working mainly in Hong Kong and Sydney. He became The Independent's rugby league man in 1990 and has written five books on the game and broadcast extensively for Sky and the BBC. Dave played his last game at the age of 53 and would have set up a try if anyone could have been bothered supporting his break. When not writing about the sport, he now limits himself to a bit of tick and pass with his local club, the Bolton Mets. Family includes supporters - of varying degrees of dedication - of Salford, Wigan, Sheffield Eagles and St George Illawarra.
Sunday 15 July 2012
Who says Challenge Cup semi-finals are tight, tense affairs? Leeds booked their place at Wembley with a series of madcap adventures.
Wigan could never undo the damage of the opening minutes, as the flawless tactical kicking of Kevin Sinfield and the finishing of Ryan Hall and Zak Hardaker put the Rhinos ahead and kept them there.
Wigan, cup-holders and top of Super League, made a dreadful start. After only three minutes, Sinfield hoisted a high kick, Sam Tomkins could not hold it and Hall scooped it up for the game's first try. Against a side who have been blowing the opposition away early on, that was a major achievement for Leeds.
Tomkins miscalculated again when he let another Sinfield kick roll into touch for a 40/20 and possession from the resulting scrum. Leeds seized eagerly upon their second opportunity, moving the ball wide to the right for Ben Jones-Bishop to score from Kallum Watkins' pass. This time it was too narrow an angle for Sinfield to convert.
Inside the game's first 12 minutes, Wigan were opened up for a third time, Hardaker touching down from Jamie Peacock's perfectly controlled offload, although there did seem to have been a forward pass in the build-up to the try.
A typical run from Tomkins put Wigan on the attack for the first time and they struck back, Brett Finch's expertly weighted pass putting George Carmont through a gap. Almost immediately, the second-row forward Gareth Hock cut the Leeds defence to ribbons with a surging run from deep and ignored the supporting Tomkins to score all on his own. Tomkins kicked his second conversion and Leeds' handsome lead was down to a plain four points.
Not for long. From the next attack of a breathless half, Hall got in at the corner to double that advantage with his second try. He was then desperately close to his third, from Sinfield's cross-field kick, but Ryan Bailey got across the whitewash on the next play.
Another Sinfield kick followed and a leaping take by Jones-Bishop put the Rhinos, surely beyond their wildest dreams, on the 30-point mark. Wigan then hit back before the interval with the luckiest of tries, Liam Farrell's pass hitting Ben Flower on the foot and coming back off the post for Flower to touch down. Tomkins' conversion and a penalty from halfway made it a 10-point gap.
If there was a feeling of the game not yet quite being won, it seemed much more secure for Leeds with the first try of the second half, Brett Delaney making the break and the referee ruling that a Wigan hand had knocked the ball down before Hardaker gathered to finish.
Still Wigan were not quite dead, Tomkins chipping ahead for Sean O'Loughlin to catch and race over.
It was enough to persuade Sinfield to invest in a drop goal and a penalty goal, just to make absolutely sure, despite Josh Charnley's late try for Wigan.
Leeds Hardaker; Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Ablett, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Delaney, Bailey. Substitutes used Kirke, Griffin, Ward, Lunt.
Wigan Tomkins; Charnley, Goulding, Carmont, Gelling; O'Loughlin, Finch; Lima, McIlorum, Mossop, Hansen, Hock, Tuson. Substitutes used Farrell, Lauaki, Flower, Hughes.
Referee B Thaler (Wakefield).
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