Wigan Warriors against the Leeds Rhinos is always one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the season but recent meetings in Super League have gone the way of the Warriors with the Rhinos last recording a victory in August 2017. The Rhinos did, however, win the last meeting between the two sides when they met in the Challenge Cup semi-final last season.
The Rhinos unavailability crisis deepened at Tuesday night’s disciplinary meeting when Zane Tetevano was handed a four-game suspension for a dangerous tackle on Theo Fages, on top of the mounting injury crisis which kept the without twelve first teamers for the losing trip to St Helens for last week’s Challenge Cup tie.
Wigan had Liam Farrell and Tommy Leuluai back in their starting line-up but were without superstar Bevan French, while one bit of good news for the Rhinos was the announcement that new signing Kyle Eastmond would start the game in the halves.
A quality and almost error free opening from both sides saw the Rhinos edge the early exchanges and Rhyse Martin went close on thirteen, held up just short by a concerted Wigan defence.
The Rhinos were finishing their sets close to the Wigan line, but it was Wigan who opened the scoring on eighteen as Liam Farrell sniffed an opportunity and ran the angle making the most of the Warriors first real opportunity after showing tremendous patience. Zak Hardaker couldn’t add the extras.
On thirty-three the Warriors extended their lead with a superb solo effort from Hardaker who chipped over the top and then collected his own kick to dove over in the left corner. Once again the stand-in full-back was unable to add the extras, Wigan 8-0 ahead with five minutes of the half remaining.
A brilliant tackle from Luke Briscoe saved the Rhinos blushes just before the interval when Hardaker had the line begging by knocking the ball out of his hands and regaining Leeds possession, the Rhinos just eight behind at the break.
Five minutes after the restart the Rhinos drew first second half blood when Alex Mellor was on hand to take a Luke Briscoe inside pass after he had himself taken a long miss-out pass from Kyle Eastmond. Rhyse Martin added the conversion, sneaking his kick inside the near post for 6-8.
Just before the hour Jackson Hastings threw a dummy and dipped his shoulder to run the angle to score by the corner flag. Hardaker dropped his conversion attempt short of the uprights, Wigan with a 12-6 lead.
Eight from the final hooter and Wigan sealed the win as Hastings went through a gap and put Farrell free to go in by the uprights allowing Hardaker to kick his first goal of the night for 18-6.
A Hardaker drop goal in the closing seconds took the score out to 19-6, a comfortable win for the visitors.
As many had suggested prior to kick off Wigan were too strong for an under-strength Rhinos side, and after soaking up some early pressure the Warriors struck with four tries to take the two points and go to the top of the league. Leeds can take some positives out of their performance but again they were pointless and have lost their third game in a row.
Wigan Warriors: Hardaker (T, G, DG), Hanley, Farrell (2T), Isa, Bibby, Hastings (T), Leuluai, Singleton, Powell, Clubb, Smithies, Bateman, Partington. Subs: Bullock, Havard, Shorrocks, Smith.
Leeds Rhinos: Broadbent, Briscoe T, Mellor (T), Sutcliffe A, Briscoe L, Eastmond, Martin (G), Oledzki, Leeming, Prior, Walters, Donaldson, Smith. Subs: Dwyer, O’Connor, Gannon, Hall.
Referee: Chris Kendall.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-8 : HT : 4-8, 6-8, 6-12, 6-16, 6-18, 6-19 : FT.