Wigan ended their seven-year wait for a place in the Super League Grand Final with a fiercely determined performance that ended Leeds' era of dominance. Two tries in five minutes at the start of the second half, backed up by some inspired defence, were enough to book the trip to Old Trafford that they have yearned for since losing there in 2003.
We have grown used this season to lauding the talents of Sam Tomkins but last night it was his big brother, Joel, who took centre stage, creating one try and scoring another either side of half-time.
"I'm very proud of the boys – the way they worked for each other, especially in the second half," said the Wigan coach, Michael Maguire. "It wasn't just the second row who stood out, it was the whole 17."
Wigan's attack in the first half was blunted by some poor kicking, although when they did mount some serious pressure they went close on both wings. More typical of the game was the way they took the lead, after 14 minutes, thanks to two penalties in quick succession, both awarded against Danny Buderus for holding on in the tackle. The second, on Stuart Fielden, was well within Pat Richards' range.
Leeds overturned that lead in a controversial manner, Martin Gleeson losing the ball but appearing to have had it stripped out in a two-man tackle. The video referee was happy, however, and Kevin Sinfield's try, scored from an arcing run after Jamie Jones-Buchanan had fed him the loose ball, was allowed to stand. Sinfield was playing stand-off and it was the sort of score more often associated with the absent Danny McGuire. He kicked the conversion.
Wigan's pressure began to tell before half-time. First Darrell Goulding grounded just short from his own clever kick and then, five minutes before the break, he did well to scoop Joel Tomkins' one-handed flip off the turf and find a gap in the Leeds defence. Richards' second goal gave the Warriors a two-point lead at the interval
The elder Tomkins was also involved in a try immediately after the resumption. Paul Deacon put up a high kick and although Scott Donald was unchallenged, the ball went through his hands. Tomkins, with some fingertip juggling, was able to plant it over the line.
Four minutes later, the grey area that is ball-stripping worked in Wigan's favour. Michael McIlorum lost the ball in a two-man tackle but Kylie Leuluai was ruled to have forced it from his grasp and George Carmont's try, after he had toed the ball ahead, counted. So did Richards' two goals and Wigan could smell Old Trafford.
Leeds mounted desperate attacks that were kept at bay by some equally desperate defence. Whatever the Rhinos threw at them, Wigan answered with superb tackling as they closed in on a Grand Final place. There were times when their supporters seemed to be making tackles as well. A Buderus try was disallowed for obstruction the only time the defence was breached.
"We didn't get enough of the bounce of the ball but credit to Wigan's defence," said Leeds's coach, Brian McClennan. "Our best wasn't quite good enough tonight."
Gleeson scored a final try that rather overstated the distance between the two teams, but Wigan had earned their place at the Theatre of Dreams, where StHelens await next Saturday.
Leeds Rhinos Webb; Donald, Delaney, Senior, Hall; Sinfield, Burrow; K Leuluai, Buderus, Bailey, Kirke, Ablett, Jones-Buchanan. Substitutes used Diskin, Eastwood, Clarkson, Lauitiiti.
Wigan Warriors S Tomkins; Goulding, Gleeson, Carmont, Richards; Deacon, T Leuluai; Fielden, Riddell, Coley, J Tomkins, Hansen, O'Loughlin. Substitutes used Prescott, Farrell, Paleaaesina, McIlorum.
Referee R Silverwood (Mirfield).Reuse content