Wigan opt to lock horns with Rhinos in play-off showdown


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The Independent Online

Wigan have chosen to play the Super League champions, Leeds, in the match that will send one of them to Old Trafford.

Under the much-derided ClubCall innovation, Wigan, as the highest-placed semi-finalists, had the choice between the Rhinos and Warrington next Friday night. The league leaders' chairman, Ian Lenagan, acknowledged that Wigan versus Warrington would be the Grand Final most people would like to see.

"We're choosing Leeds to give the best chance of that happening," he said, even though the Rhinos beat Wigan 39-28 in the semi-final of the Challenge Cup this season.

"We won't be reading too much into that," said the Leeds coach, Brian McDermott. "That was a result in a different competition." Wigan have beaten the fifth-placed Rhinos twice in the league this year.

Leeds also have a worry over one of their potential match-winners, Super League's record try-scorer, Danny McGuire. The Rugby Football League's review panel will decide today whether the half-back has a case to answer over the high tackle on the Catalan Dragons' Jason Baitieri, for which he was placed on report in Perpignan on Friday night. Any suspension would rule him out of the Wigan match and a two-game ban would keep him out of the Grand Final, should Leeds qualify.

McDermott spoke out in defence of his player yesterday. "He went into the tackle thinking the bloke was going to be taller than he was," he said. "I hope there's going to be some common sense."

Wigan's choice means that Warrington, 24-12 victors over Hull, go to their neighbours St Helens on Saturday. They hope to have both the forwards who missed the Hull game, Ben Westwood and Garreth Carvell, fit to face Saints.

The Wolves won rather more comfortably than the scoreline shows, because they led 24-0 until two late tries from their stubborn visitors narrowed the gap. The Hull coach, Peter Gentle, praised his team's determination. "We've been playing busted," he said. "There were a few youngsters out there today, which augurs well for next season."

Warrington's highlight was a brilliant solo kick-and-chase try from Stefan Ratchford, praised afterwards by his coach, Tony Smith, for his contribution in recent weeks. "Stefan has been doing things like that all season," he said.

There will be a British representative on both sides in Australia's NRL Grand Final next Sunday. The Halifax-born Gareth Widdop will be in the Melbourne Storm's team against James Graham's Canterbury Bulldogs, who qualified by thrashing South Sydney 32-8.

That meant disappointment for two other British players, the Burgess brothers, Sam and Luke, who strove in vain for Souths.