The Super League leaders fell agonisingly short of an astonishing comeback in an epic contest at the JJB stadium last night. Trailing by 17 points with a quarter of an hour to play, the Rhinos racked up three quick tries and then, in the last minute, were awarded a penalty for Andy Coley lying on the ball.
With their captain and regular goal kicker, Kevin Sinfield, off the pitch injured, Rob Burrow lined up the all important 40-metre shot at goal, only for his effort to drop short of the left hand upright.
Sinfield has a knee ligament injury that threatens his place in Leeds' Challenge Cup semi-final against St Helens at the end of the month. His coach, Brian McClellan, refused to blame his absence for the side's defeat: "I wouldn't put it down to that, or to the first 20 minutes and going 17 points down. Rob's a fantastic player and I'm just disappointed that we put him in that position".
Wigan's Brian Noble believed that it would have been an injustice to have the spoils snatched away right at the death. "It would have been hard to take," he admitted. "They came back at us, but I thought we had done enough to win it."
Wigan could hardly have started this match any better. Gareth Hock got the ball away to Pat Richards in the first tackle of the game and Trent Barrett exploited the position to put in a kick for Cameron Phelps to score.
Phelps consolidated his status as a brand-new Wigan hero with a second try after 10 minutes. A sluggish looking Leeds contributed to their own problems when Jamie Jones-Buchanan lost the ball in a tackle. Thomas Leuluai moved it smartly for George Carmont and Phelps managed to twist his wan over the line.
Richards could not add a second conversion, but contributed a penalty after Leeds were guilty of trying to slow down the play-of-the-ball. Ryan Hall came close to getting one back for Leeds but put a foot in touch. Stuart Fielden and Jamie Peacock, old team-mates for Bradford, were having a running battle, but it was Fielden's Wigan who were winning the war, especially when Leuluai put in a clever kick and Liam Colbon leapt amid three defenders to claim it and touch down.
The best Leeds could offer by way of reply to a compelling first half from Wigan was when Matt Diskin lost the ball lunging over the line, before Richards then edged his side further ahead with a drop-goal.
Wigan: Richards, Calderwood, Goulding, Carmont, Phelps, Barrett, T Leuluai, Fielden, Higham, Coley, Hansen, Tomkins, Hock. Substitutes: Colbon, McIlorum, O'Carroll, Tuson.
Leeds: Webb, Hall, Ellis, Senior, Donald, McGuire, Burrow, K Leuluai, Diskin, Peacock, Jones-Buchanan, Lauitiiti, Sinfield. Substitutes: Smith, Bailey, Burgess, Allan.
Referee: A Klein (Keighley)Reuse content