Leeds Rhinos showed incredible spirit to book their place in the Betfred Super League Grand Final with a comeback 20-8 victory over Wigan Warriors. The away side were dominated for the first 40 minutes at the DW Stadium. But the Rhinos stormed back in the second half to earn their place at Old Trafford on 24th September. 2022 Challenge Cup winners Wigan were unbeaten at home this year but they let this semi final slip through their fingers on their own patch.
The atmosphere was electric with the promise of a trip to Old Trafford for the victors. Leeds looked like being the first side to capitalise on the crackling noise with some early pressure. Liam Marshall, Willie Isa and Jake Bibby eventually snuffed out the chance and forced Liam Tindall into touch. The Wigan crowd roared their approval.
This moment of Rhinos inspiration would be atypical to the way the rest of the half played out. An impetuous dink over the top from Jai Field nearly found Bevan French for an early sight of the try-line.
It would not be long before the Cherry and Whites crossed that line. Liam Marshall gobbled up a long Harry Smith pass and acrobatically fired himself over on the left wing. The video official checked it for a boot in touch but it was given. It deserved to be such was the athletic fervour with which Marshall scored it, logging his 22nd try of the season. Smith could not convert from the tightest of angles.
Smith failed again with a decent sighter from a penalty. A James Bentley knock-on afforded him the penalty opportunity but it was not taken. The noise from the Leeds fans behind the posts was deafening. They roared once more when a dogged defensive effort turned back a bloodied John Bateman on the attack.
Having dominated the first period, Warriors still led by just four points on the scoreboard. This fallow harvest would be slashed in half by Zak Hardaker. The Pontefract-born centre was the subject of a high tackle from Field and rose to stick his penalty between the posts to send the teams in at half time at 4-2.
Bevan French surprised many by lining up for the second half, having limped off with an ankle injury in the first. His participation would not last and by the time he left the field, his side were behind. Jarrod O’Connor picked the perfect moment for his very first Rhinos try and Hardaker converted to turn the tide of this semi final clash.
Wigan Warriors vs Leeds Rhinos
James Bentley made it two tries in three minutes and suddenly we were watching a completely different game of rugby league. The Warriors struggled to respond, losing the cohesion of their play that had coloured the first period.
Exacerbating their situation, Wigan had John Bateman sent off for a dangerous tackle on Aidan Sezer. It was a later, clattering challenge that made direct contact with Sezer’s head. Bateman creditably checked on his opponent and apologised before he left the field.
Marshall had a second try chalked off when it was adjudged he had not brought the ball under control. Not that Leeds needed the luck at this stage as Bentley made it a brace shortly afterwards. Hardaker added the two to tie the bow on a remarkable turnaround in performance for the Rhinos. Sam Powell added an unconverted try in the late stages but it was a try for pride more than anything.
Leeds Rhinos go on to Old Trafford to face the winner of Saturday’s clash between St Helens and Salford Red Devils. Both teams will have been put on notice by this battling display by the 11 time champions.
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