Leeds’ proud, tenacious run as the rulers of Super League is over, after their patched-up and battle-weary side was outlasted by Wigan.
They now meet Warrington in the Grand Final at Old Trafford next Saturday but it would be telling them nothing they don’t know already to say that they will need to play better over the 80 minutes than they did before getting it right last night.
Nothing was given away lightly in a game notable for being the last at Wigan for Sam Tomkins before he becomes the world’s most expensive rugby league player in New Zealand. It was not only the farewell night at the DW Stadium for Tomkins, but also for Lee Mossop and Pat Richards, the latter a player who, in his own way, has been almost as influential as Tomkins over the last few seasons. In a game expected to be as close as this, beforehand who could say how important his goal-kicking, or that of Leeds’ Kevin Sinfield, might prove to be?
The match started in the nervy fashion that question suggests, Tomkins losing the ball the first time he was tackled and Ben Jones-Bishop very nearly squeezing in at the corner. When Iain Thornley got a similar chance at the other end, courtesy of Richards’ inside pass, he accepted it. What is more, Richards converted from a wide angle.
The most exciting moment for Leeds’ travelling fans came from Ryan Hall’s weaving run, but the Warriors got back in numbers to snuff out that threat.
First blood in the second half looked likely to be even more pivotal than in the average tight match. It went in favour of Leeds, when Carl Ablett made a clean break and found the right pass to hit Joel Moon in support and leave Sinfield a relatively simple equalising conversion.
However, that acted as a wake-up call for Wigan. Almost for the first time in the match, their half-backs linked effectively and Liam Farrell scored with one of his characteristic angled runs. Richards landed the goal with his equally characteristic lack of fuss and then Matty Smith’s little kick took a lucky bounce off a defender to give Darrell Goulding a try after the struggling Kallum Watkins had conceded possession with a knock-on.
Old Trafford was within sight and not even Leeds could stop them. Josh Charnley’s try, from a wonderful run by Smith, was the icing on the cake, although the Rhinos got a face-saver through Liam Sutcliffe.
Wigan: S Tomkins; Charnley, Goulding, Thornley, Richards; Green, Smith; Dudson, McIlorum, Mossop, Hansen, Farrell, Flower. Substitutes used: Hughes, L Tomkins, Crosby, Taylor.
Leeds: Hardaker; Jones-Bishop, Watkins, Moon, Hall; McGuire, Sinfield; Leuluai, Burrow, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Ablett, Bailey. Substitutes used: Clarkson, Achurch, Kirke, Sutcliffe.
Referee: P Bentham (Warrington)