Leeds’ hopes of a record ninth Super League title remain alive after they ended both Wigan’s hopes of reaching the Grand Final and Adrian Lam’s reign in a fashion that perhaps summed up their entire season to perfection. The Warriors have limped and laboured their way to a fourth-placed finish this season, but they were once again nilled at home here in humiliating fashion after the fifth-placed Rhinos ground out a play-off victory we have come to expect from a side with plenty of form at this time of the year.
They will face either St Helens or Catalans in week two, and in the end, it was hard to argue with the final outcome here. For all Leeds’ grit and determination, there is no doubting that this has been a season everyone associated with Wigan will be keen to forget. Nilled twice at home in a matter of weeks, what proved to be Lam’s final game in charge was perhaps an apt microcosm of the Warriors’ season as a whole: disappointing, timid and bereft of creativity.
As you would expect in a game of this magnitude, both sides were defensively resolute in the opening quarter. Leeds had an early opportunity to go ahead after winning a penalty but they instead opted to run the play, and the Warriors survived with their line intact.
Wigan responded with gusto, but a sensational tackle from Harry Newman forced Zak Hardaker towards touch as he looked certain to break the deadlock. He threw the ball back into play, but Rhyse Martin was on hand to intercept and ensure the game remained scoreless.
Discipline was certainly on top, but even when either side received a penalty, both teams held firm in what was quickly becoming an engrossing contest. However, you felt that Wigan’s strong defence was giving them the advantage, with Leeds struggling to break the Warriors down.
The firm defence was underlined by a ferocious tackle on Hardaker as he carried the ball from his own line. Perhaps the best chance of the half fell to Leeds though, as Ash Handley looked likely to pounce on a loose ball, but Wigan scrambled back to keep the scores level at half-time.
The tight nature of the contest continued after half-time. Early penalties gave Wigan the opportunity to break the deadlock, but Leeds held firm in the face of some testing Warriors attacks.
The penalties kept coming for the Warriors, but as the hour mark approached, the deadlock was finally broken, and it came via the visitors. A towering kick from Kruise Leeming was knocked back by Richie Myler, and Handley was on hand to collect the bouncing ball and touch down. Martin converted.
In truth, as the game entered the final minutes, you began to wonder just how a Wigan side who have laboured so much in attack would overturn even a six-point deficit. They huffed and puffed, and when they were penalised for a ball steal in front of their own posts, Martin took an easy two points to keep the Rhinos in the hunt for Old Trafford: and put Wigan out of their misery.