Rugby league: Paul secures Wigan's place in Grand Final

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The Independent Online
Wigan 17 Leeds 4

WIGAN ARE safely in the Grand Final while Leeds must lick their wounds, patch up their wounded players and beat St Helens next week if they are to join them.

It takes an exceptional side to beat this current Wigan team twice in a season, as Leeds have done; it remains an unproven proposition that there is a team in Britain capable of beating them three times.

This match, like its two predecessors, could have gone either way, but Wigan always had the edge in their quality of execution.

This was the real red meat of play-off rugby, as promised when Super League signed up for the Australian-style finals format this season.

"We are delighted that we can produce that sort of form at the right time of the year," the Wigan coach John Monie, and, with two weeks rest until the Grand Final at Old Trafford, so he should be.

Wigan subjected Leeds to a first half of unremitting intensity. If they had been outdone for passion in the first two encounters there was a steely determination that they were not going to fall down in that department last night.

The power of their tackling rocked Leeds on their heels from the start. The visitors had plenty of ball but Wigan were up in their faces so quickly and in such numbers that they could do little with it.

Leeds's own tackling was equally unforgiving until the 17th minute. Lee Gilmour, the find of the season at Wigan and in Super League as a whole, took a pass from Tony Smith inside his own 25, got outside the despairing lunge of Darren Fleary and went 80 yards for the most spectacular try of even his eye-catching season. It was duly converted by Andy Farrell.

Five minutes later, after the hard-worked Iestyn Harris had needed to scramble away one Farrell grubber, another precise kick from the Wigan captain yielded their second try.

Mark Bell found acres of space outside Paul Sterling on the exposed Leeds right flank and Farrell picked him out. Like a Leeds effort by Terry Newton which was disallowed, the Leeds coach, Graham Murray, felt with some justification that the referee, Stuart Cummings, should have consulted video evidence.

It said much for the depth of character in this Leeds side that they were still so full of running in the second half, although it took it a debatable refereeing decision to pave the way for their try.

Tony Mestrov was penalised, harshly it seemed, for not playing the ball, and on the last tackle the Wigan defence, expecting a kick, hung off Harris just long enough for him to move the ball wide.

It was in and out of Brad Godden's hands before they had time to adjust and Francis Cummins scored in the corner.

Leeds then threatened to seize the initiative, but with Adrian Morley injured on the sidelines, they lacked the necessary fire power against such remorseless tackling.

Farrell popped over a drop goal - Wigan's first of the season - and their defence held firm until Henry Paul made it safe six minutes from time.

Taking the pass from Smith. He cut back inside Newton and threw Marcus St Hilaire.

Whether Leeds can meet them Wigan for a fourth tilt will depend heavily if Morley recovers from his shoulder injury and if Marc Glanville, also off the pitch by the end, has done much damage to his knee.

Wigan: Radlinski; Robinson, Moore, Connolly, Bell; Paul, Smith; O'Connor, McCormack, Mestrov, Holgate, Gilmour, Andy Farrell. Substitutes used: Cowie, Haughton, Clarke, Johnson.

Leeds: Harris; Sterling, Blackmore, Godden, Cummins; Powell, Sheridan, Masella, Newton, Fleary, Morley, Anthony Farrell, Glanville. Substitutes used: St Hilaire, Rivett, Hay, Mathiou.

Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).

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