12-man Leeds Rhinos claimed a famous 18-40 victory over Wigan Warriors, with Matty Peet's side crumbling under the pressure from the Rhinos in a second half that saw Leeds score five times to recover from what can only be described as a shambolic first half.
Ahead of today’s fixture was the return of Wigan’s Australian half-back Cade Cust, who missed out on the Warriors’ last six fixtures after suffering with a bulging disc injury. Leeds name Ash Handley at fullback with Blake Austin and Richie Myler pairing up in the halves.
Leeds got us underway at the DW Stadium, with the Rhinos looking to claim a major scalp on the road after a tough start to the season so far. Leeds started the game on the wrong foot, with three errors leading to penalties within six minutes, twice for offside. 15 scoreless minutes was dominated by Matty Peet’s side, who forced multiple drop outs from Leeds and were putting some serious fight into the side that kicked them out of the post-season last September.
Wigan’s wait for the first try didn’t take long, and after another drop out, Lebanon’s Abbas Miski opened the scoring. The winger dived into the corner after a smart pass from Harry Smith, who’s adds another fine assist to his growing collection this season. Smith collected the two extra points from the sidelines with a tremendous effort.
Shortly after the try, Miski was on the end of a hit from James Bentley, who’s chase was perhaps a little to eager, as his head collided with the winger with venom. A head-injury assessment saw the Irish international miss the rest of the fixture and also will miss the next clash between these two in the Betfred Challenge Cup next week.
French was next over the whitewash in the game, with Wigan capitalising on a scrum ten metres out from the Leeds tryline. Some quick hands led the ball to the fullback who saw a gap in the defence and pushed his way through the line and grounded the ball. Liam Moore sent it up to the video referee but the camera wasn’t helpful enough to change the on-field decision. Smith added the two points with ease to make it a 2-0 lead with 15 minutes to go in the first half.
Warriors got themselves two points for free on the 32nd minute. Handley’s pass was straight into the face of teammate Cameron Smith, with the fullback collecting it once more and Wigan’s lead was extended through a successful goal kick with the Warriors not having to work for it.
Just a minute after, it was finally Leeds’ time to capitalise on an error. A loose pass from Smith ended up in the hands of Harry Newman, who had the pace to burn away from Morgan Smithies and French. A slice of luck that might give the travelling supporters something to cheer about in a dismal 40 minutes. The kick was converted by Rhyse Martin to keep up with Wigan’s 100% conversion rate so far.
Zane Tetevano was sent off by Liam Moore after a late hit on Harry Smith. The shot was late and hit his opponent in the head, and he knew he was off when the big screen at the DW showed the tackle to a pearl-clutching audience. Smith did take a head-injury assessment but managed to return for the second half.
After the first 40, Wigan could feel like they missed one or two opportunities but will be boosted by Tetevano’s red card going into the second half. Leeds’ first half was disastrous up until that Newman effort. A red card means they’ve got a lot of work cut out for them in the second half, and Rohan Smith should be making notes for some big training sessions ahead of next week’s rematch in the cup.
The second half saw a new dawn for Leeds. An early bit of Wigan pressure saw the Rhinos fly out of the blocks on a delay, but it caught the Warriors out by surprise. Some fine running and offloading from Martin and Blake Austin saw Leeds force two set restarts on the Wigan tryline, and Tom Holroyd got himself over to bring Leeds up to double figures. Martin added the two, and the game was now back on, after a disaster of a first half for the Rhinos.
Leeds’ intensity only grew from there on. A kick from Myler saw Wigan’s Smith let it bounce rather than catch it, but it struck his leg and bounced straight into the path of the Leeds chase, and Myler had a head start on the Wigan defence and added another try to take the lead, aided by Martin’s conversion also. It’s a hell of an effort from the 12-man Rhinos.
Wigan managed to plug the wound around ten minutes later. Iain Thornley came off the bench to add his third try in two games, getting on the end of a long looping pass from Smith and rushing to the corner for the four points. Smith was unable to convert the kick from the sidelines so the scores were level at 18-18 after an hour of play.
In a moment that can only be described in French as ‘Déjà vu’, a Harry Smith pass was intercepted by the onrushing Harry Newman, and he had another completely open field to run into. Another error from Smith and Wigan leading to more Leeds points to extend their lead to 18-24. Leeds had now scored triple the amount of points with 12 on the field than when they a full team.
The Rhinos couldn’t be stopped. Martin was next over the line, after some manic hot potato within Wigan’s ten metres. Morgan Gannon found Martin wide open after the Warriors overcommitted to tackles, and limp efforts to get a hand on the Papuan. He couldn’t convert his own try, but they were now ten points to the good. The tries continued to fly in, this time it was the other Smith, Cameron of Leeds, crossing underneath the posts. The scoreline was getting uglier by the minute.
Wigan’s woes continued. French was sin-binned with four minutes to go after a Leeds break by Sam Lisone. He made the most of the contact, and perhaps denied his teammate scoring a simple try, but Wigan’s night was summed up right there. Fooled by the Rhinos in the second half and left chasing shadows.
Just before the full-time hooter, we had a third batch of ‘Deja vu’ as Cade Cust threw a sloppy pass straight into the hands of Liam Tindall, who couldn’t have had much of an easier opportunity to score, putting 40 points on the board for Leeds.
It's back to the drawing board for Wigan. A fine first half was diminished by the intensity of Leeds, who bounced back from the red card to Tetevano as a team worthy of becoming title winners.