|Wigan (0) 0|
|Leeds (0) 8|
|Try: Handley Goals: Martin 2|
Leeds Rhinos overcame Wigan Warriors to book a Super League play-off semi-final spot in a bruising, intense game at the DW Stadium.
The two sides slugged it out for the first 40 minutes without a single point to show in a game of ferocious grind.
It took a kick from Kruise Leeming, tapped back by Richie Myler and finished by Ash Handley, to break the arm-wrestle cycle in the second half.
Wigan hammered away but Rhyse Martin sealed victory with a late penalty.
That decision – and the game-sealing shot at goal – infuriated outgoing Wigan head coach Adrian Lam, who felt it had been spilled by Mikolaj Oledzki rather than ripped away from the Rhinos prop.
Leeds will face either League Leaders’ Shield winners Catalans Dragons or St Helens in the last four, depending on the winner of Friday’s game between Warrington and Hull KR.
With the stakes almost as high as the annual expectations of these two summer-era powerhouses, it was no surprise that error-free yet full-pelt rugby was the order of the day – and one try was enough to settle it too.
Neither side wanted to give anything away defensively, resulting in a game of concentration and perspiration rather than inspiration and attacking quality. But while it might not have been a points-fest, it was utterly compelling to watch, with every hit-up charged with emotion and intensity.
Kicking from both sides looked the most likely source of points, with Myler fumbling a few testers from Wigan’s Harry Smith, while Rob Lui, Myler and Leeming kept firing the ball into back-field and turning the home side around.
But it was Leeds who produced the contest’s key moment, with Myler outjumping Wigan’s Jake Bibby as the Rhinos got numbers forward in the kick-chase and Handley did the rest to open the scoring.
In the end, despite tremendous effort and graft, Wigan’s stars such as John Bateman, Jackson Hastings and Zak Hardaker could not come up with the decisive play to break Leeds down, as the Warriors’ paucity of points in 2021 – an average of 16 per game – served to underline their lack of punch.
So it proved as they remained scoreless while Martin’s late penalty ensured Leeds continued their play-off push, and retained their hopes of securing a third Super League title from finishing fifth in the table.
For Lam, it is the end of the road as Wigan coach and, having guided the Warriors to the Grand Final last season where they were beaten by St Helens, ends his dreams of adding the Super League title to the Challenge Cup he won as a player.
The exit door also awaits for players Hastings and Oliver Gildart, who signed off in front of a home crowd before their move to National Rugby League side Wests Tigers in Australia for 2022.
Wigan boss Adrian Lam:
“I’m absolutely gutted. The dressing room is devastated in there. We didn’t really get into our rhythm at all with the ball attacking wise, but we defended pretty tough.
“In tough, tight games when the opposition scores it’s hard to come back. We didn’t really attack in the way we’d trained all week, and we’ve been that way a bit all year. A few decisions went against us and I was frustrated watching.
“A lot of players are leaving, it’s just not only about me, it’s about the players are more important, and they’re just gutted because we had an opportunity to finish on a fairytale and it hardly ever comes true.
“It was in our hands, a home semi-final, but we couldn’t get over the line.”
Leeds Rhinos head coach Richard Agar told BBC Radio Leeds:
“It was a brutal game. Points were hard to come by, the conditions played their part a bit as it was a really greasy pitch, and we played a really good defensive side, but I thought we defended well ourselves.
“We played a team that completed at 90%, but I felt comfortable and we were comfortable with what they were throwing at us but the key for us was to wear their middles out a bit more.
“It’s play-off football, it takes on a different life of its own. We probably didn’t exert enough pressure, but we had a bit better momentum in the second-half, spent time down Wigan’s end and got the chances we needed to post points.
“To come to Wigan twice in a month and keep them scoreless shows our guys are pretty invested in each other. We had some bodies that had to really push themselves through some fatigue and pain out there.”
Wigan: Hardaker, Bibby, Isa, Gildart, Marshall, Smith, Hastings, Smithies, Farrell, Bateman, Partington, Powell, Singleton.
Interchanges: Byrne, Havard, Pearce-Paul, Shorrocks
Leeds: Myler, L Briscoe, Newman, T Briscoe, Handley, Lui, Leeming, Tetevano, Martin, Donaldson, Thompson, Dwyer, Prior
Interchanges: Hurrell, Oledzki, Holroyd, Smith