Wigan Warriors stormed past a demoralised and depleted Leeds Rhinos at the DW stadium last night, in a game that was prevented from becoming a rout only by Wigan’s excessive handling errors gifting the Leeds defence sorely needed lifelines.
From the moment the ball was first kicked down field, Wigan utterly dominated play, with their attacks repeatedly pushing Leeds back to their own try line. Each time though Wigan’s players somehow managed to lose the ball. Leeds though were never able to capitalise on these errors, though occasionally they came close.
The tenor of the game however, was dictated from the moment Liam Farrell’s tenth minute try was disallowed by the video referee due to obstruction. Had this been a tighter game that decision would have gained an air of controversy, but this was never a tight game, and, in retrospect, it was never going to be. Leeds haven’t been on form all season, while Wigan have shown that the only team capable of beating them this year is from the other side of the planet.
The Warriors have lost only to the Brisbane Broncos at their home ground since St Helens were the last Superleague side to gain victory there back in 2014. That record has come on the back of a strong defence that is let down only by the lack of an equally effective offence.
Time and again the Warriors fans saw great attacks ruined by poorly timed passes, notably when Dom Manfredi’s attempt to give the ball to Dan Sarginson bounced off Sarginson’s chest.
Manfredi made up for that with a magical ninety metre run that saw him either sidestep the Leeds players or else simply brush them off. While he was brought down just before the try line, John Bateman was there to supply such quick support that Leeds had no defensive line to stop him and Wigan scored their first crucial try.
Leeds could have responded with an easy two points when they were given a penalty right in front of the Wigan goals. The Rhinos went for the glory of four points but against a Wigan side hungry for victory and steadfast in defence this was stupid, and while they did threaten in the dying moments of the first half, with Jamie Jones-Buchanan particularly strong for Leeds, the score was still six to nothing when the players went back to their dressing rooms.
Come the second half and Leeds were nowhere. Although Wigan still made stupid errors, the Warriors were always in control. The days of simply trying to plough through their opponent’s defence were over, with a great series of passes leading to a second try from Oliver Gildart right on the edge of the pitch. Although Matty Smith wasn’t able to convert, the lost two points were immaterial.
The third try by Manfredi came off passes made even as Wigan players were being tackled, with quick clever moves from Taulima Tautai and Anthony Gelling keeping the ball alive. Gelling would add to the score later with his try coming from a quick dummy that left the Rhinos players dead for try number five, after Tony Clubb simply pushed his way through for try number four.
Smith converted both of those tries, as he did for Manfredi’s, where the ball bounced in off the post. By this point Leeds’s players looked shellshocked and although Zak Hardaker was able to provide something of a consolation try in the last ninety seconds, which he subsequently converted, it was notable far more for being Hardaker’s 100th try than any effect it had on this game.
While the Rhinos faithful were still watching from the stands, they’d long since fallen silent in a game where their team was only spared greater humiliation, such as that suffered by Wakefield, who lost 44-4 at St Helens, by the fact that Wigan’s errors, particularly in the first half, handed the Rhinos chances. Had the Warriors attack been as strong as their defence, and this is surely something Shaun Wayne will want to work on, the scoreline would have had a far greater divide and Hardaker’s try been rendered even more of an afterthought.