The Super League play-offs were designed to produce drama, but they will rarely match this. Kevin Sinfield's drop-goal five minutes from time clinched an unforgettable Leeds victory, but the game ended in near chaos when, in time added on, Pat Richard had the chance to win it with a 40-metre penalty from the touch-line.
He missed, Leeds get a week off and Wigan, league leaders all season, must face Hull KR on Friday. It was as good as play-off rugby gets – although Danny McGuire suffered what could be a serious knee injury amidst the chaos, with Leeds clearly believing that the incident happened in suspicious circumstances.
The Rhinos' coach, Brian McClennan, was ecstatic at the way his side fought back from a 14-point deficit, however. "They showed a lot of fortitude and composure," he said.
The defending champions, who left out Lee Smith and moved Keith Senior back to his customary role in the centres, found no answers in that adjusted line-up to the early threat of Sam Tomkins, who hit them with two brilliant tries in the first six minutes.
For the first, Wigan targeted the volatile Ryan Bailey with a legitimate but ferocious gang-tackle. Sure enough, the ball came loose and, from that gift of possession, Paul Deacon launched a high kick, Martin Gleeson soared to claw it back from beyond the dead-ball line and Tomkins touched down.
Sinfield put his kick-off straight out of play and again the Warriors took immediate advantage, with Deacon and Thomas Leuluai changing the angle of attack and Sean O'Loughlin putting Tomkins into a gap. There was plenty left for him to do, but with his pace and elusiveness he did it with yards to spare.
Richards kicked both conversions and, when he tagged on a penalty for Danny Buderus holding on in the tackle, it seemed that Wigan were running away with it. It says much, however, for the Rhinos' resilience that they came back after a start like that, but thanks to Greg Eastwood, who came off the bench to be their catalyst, they did.
Eastwood is a deceptive player in that he is far more elusive than he looks. That was how he got out of a couple of Wigan tackles to set up Buderus after 21 minutes. Almost immediately, Leeds attacked again and, this time, it was McGuire's long, looping pass that put Ryan Hall over.
Buderus was placed on report for dumping Paul Prescott on his head, before both sides came close to scoring a candidate for try of the season. Wigan's was a move initiated by Sam Tomkins and Liam Farrell that ended with Richards being tackled into touch by McGuire. Leeds' was a magnificent, wriggling run by Rob Burrow that took him to within a lunge of the try-line.
The Rhinos still had the last laugh of an extraordinary first half, when Joel Tomkins stupidly kicked out at McGuire and Sinfield landed the equalising penalty. Leeds took the lead when Sinfield slipped the ball one-handed out of the tackle to Brent Webb and McGuire supported for the try. But Wigan hit back with the help of a lying-on penalty that Leeds plainly believed Tomkins had milked. No matter; Harrison Hansen and Stuart Fielden did the lead-up work and Liam Farrell, a chip off the old family tree who really knows his way to the try-line, levelled the scores once more.
Leeds hit the front again when Scott Donald crashed through Tomkins, but the full-back had immediate revenge by setting up Richards. The difference was that Richards could not add the conversion, nor a long-range penalty for a high tackle high on Joel Tomkins.
More contentiously, Sinfield was penalised for a tackle on Fielden and this time Richards found his range. Thomas Leuluai could not stop the restart finding touch, giving Leeds the precious possession from which Sinfield took his chance. Wigan got theirs when Richards kicked ahead in the last minute and was tackled late by Donald. He has been an impeccable marksman for Wigan this season, but this time the task was beyond him.
Wigan: S Tomkins; Goulding, Gleeson, Carmont, Richards; Deacon, Leuluai; Fielden, Riddell, Coley, Farrell, J Tomkins, O'Loughlin. Substitutes used: Prescott, Hansen, Tuson, McIlorum.
Leeds: Webb; Hall, Delaney, Senior, Donald; McGuire, Burrow; K.Leuluai, Buderus, Bailey, Ablett, Kirke, Sinfield. Substitutes used: Diskin, Eastwood, Clarkson, Lauitiiti.
Referee: T Alibert (France).Reuse content