Leeds Rhinos 4
ONE SNIPING run from Jason Robinson tilted a gruelling inaugural Super League Grand Final Wigan's way as they and Leeds provided compelling evidence here last night that this really is the right way to decide the country's champion side.
A bigger crowd than ever attended the old-style Premiership final at the same ground saw an epic contest, a worthy culmination to the series of battles between the two clubs this season.
Even in dreadful conditions, and in the face of ferocious defence, the players on both sides handled the ball astonishingly well. But, although we have grown used to remorseless tackling from teams coached by John Monie and Graham Murray this year, it was a lapse in the Leeds' defence that made all the difference.
Leeds had dominated the first-half territorially until the last few minutes before the break, but then a dropped ball by Anthony Farrell, an immediate penalty for offside and a jinking lateral run from dummy half by the Great Britain winger changed the course of the game.
Several Leeds players, notably Darren Fleary and their substitute forward Jamie Mathiou, had a chance to get their hands on Robinson but his combination of strength and elusiveness can be fiendishly difficult to contain and he raced under the sticks to give his captain, Andy Farrell and easy conversion and brought Wigan an unlikely half-time lead.
"That's my job," said Robinson. "I'd just got to keep at them and hopefully a gap would come. I've not scored that many tries this season so it was good to get over for that one."
Leeds had been superb in the opening phase of the game. Although they had needed three games, as opposed to Wigan's one, to reach the final, they were by far the livelier side.
They had carved out the first glimmer of a try-scoring opportunity when Iestyn Harris, the season's outstanding individual, despite finishing last night as the losing captain, took Ryan Sheridan's pass and seemed to be on his way to the line. A fractional hesitation allowed him to be swallowed up in a two-man tackle and the chance and the ball were gone.
Harris also missed a chance with his boot when Leeds were awarded a kickable penalty for Mark Bell's interference at the play-the-ball, but he was inevitably involved when Leeds did finally turn their superiority into a lead.
His weaving run put Wigan on the back foot and, even though he was hauled down in the shadow of the posts, a quick play-the-ball and equally rapid handling by Daryl Powell and Sheridan sent the powerful Richie Blackmore charging over the line. Harris could not convert and, more damagingly, Blackmore soon squandered another chance to extend Leeds' advantage. Harris was again the provider but the Kiwi centre could not hold his pass.
The first sign that Wigan were on their way back came with a strong run from Tony Mestrov. It took Robinson, who also claimed the Harry Sunderland Trophy as man of the match to make the breakthrough, however, and Wigan had the expertise to carry on from there.
Leeds did not help themselves by the way their error rate shot up in the second half. Marc Glanville conceded a penalty for dropping on to Tony Smith in the tackle. This time the penalty was well within Farrell's scope and Wigan were four points ahead.
It could have been more in the 48th minute when Bell got between Harris and Leroy Rivett to claim the touchdown, but he was denied on the intervention of the video referee.
Any hope that Leeds had disappeared, however, when Graham Holroyd was penalised for flopping in the tackle and Farrell landed the final points as the last seconds ticked away.
Leeds have still not won a trophy for 10 years nor one that could be termed a major trophy for 15 but their coach Murray said: "I'm proud of the attitude at this club and we're going to go on from here."
For Monie now a winner under this format in both countries this was "a Grand Final to rival any Australian Grand Final". From him praise for the validity of the event does not come much higher.
Wigan: Radlinski; Robinson, Connolly, Moore, Bell; Paul, Smith; O'Connor, McCormack, Mestrov, Gilmour, Holgate, Andy Farrell. Substitutes used: Johnson, Houghton, Cawie, Cassidy.
Leeds: Harris; Rivett, Blackmore, Godden, Cummins; Powell, Sheridan; Masella, Newton, Fleary, Morley, Anthony Farrell, Glanville. Substitutes used: Mathiou, Holroyd, Hay, St Hilaire.
Referee: R Smith (Castleford).Reuse content