A 77th minute drop goal to Danny Tickle gave Wigan
Warriors a 23-22 win at Leeds Rhinos on Friday night and sealed their
place in the Tetley's Rugby Super League Grand Final.
It was a superb Final Eliminator as the sides threatened to repeat
the two 24-all draws they have already contested at Headingley this
But Tickle's late drop goal proved the difference between the sides
as Wigan set up a repeat of the 2001 Grand Final against Bradford at
Old Trafford next week.
The Rhinos sprang a surprise in their team selection, with Mark
Calderwood being dropped, Richard Mathers switching to wing and Danny
McGuire, normally a stand off, coming in at full back.
The odds on Wigan scoring a try from a kick looked strong with this
move, but it was not through testing the youngster that they took the
lead in the eighth minute.
Leeds half back Andrew Dunemann launched a bomb from half way, but
Brian Carney collected ahead of Keith Senior before racing up the
touchline and exchanging passes with Kris Radlinski to touch down.
Brett Dallas produced a fine try-saving tackle on Gary Connolly, but
two penalties against the Warriors gave Leeds the platform for Matt
Diskin to grubber through, McGuire racing in to touch down.
Kevin Sinfield converted and then added a penalty after Quentin
Pongia's high tackle on Chris McKenna.
Leeds' continued to dominate, with Mathers unable to take McGuire's
pass after Diskin and Rob Burrow had broken up the middle.
And the England A duo of McGuire and Burrow combined again on 25
minutes, with the latter racing 35 yards to the line following Chris
Sinfield opened up a 14-4 lead with the goal, but Warriors captain
Andy Farrell seemed determined to single-handedly haul his side back
into the game.
Dallas was stopped by Cummins after breaking clear with five minutes
to go in the half, while Paul Johnson was tackled short by Burrow
before Sean O'Loughin dived in from dummy half.
Farrell converted to cut the gap to four points at the break, but
Leeds moved further ahead on 49 minutes, when Danny Ward and Sinfield
but McGuire away, and he drew Radlinski and Carney before Burrow
scooted over for his second.
But Wigan hit back in style after Dallas and David Hogdson trapped
McGuire in-goal five minutes later, with O'Loughlin taking a Pongia
offload before darting through a gap to touch down, Farrell goaling.
Sinfield edged Leeds out to 20-16 with a penalty after Newton's
lifting tackle on Dunemann, but Carney's wonderful second try on 62
minutes turned the game.
He took the ball from dummy half ten minutes out from his own line,
span out of Keith Senior's tackle and slipped out of the grasp of
Wayne McDonald and Burrow in a thrilling dash to the line.
Farrell's conversion put Wigan 22-20 ahead, and they continued to
press, with Luke Robinson's kick forcing Cummins to concede a drop
Leeds' Chris McKenna saw his pass for Mathers fly into touch with
nine minutes remaining, but Terry O'Connor's off-the-ball pull on
McGuire allowed Sinfield to level matters with a 35-metre penalty.
But a knock on from Willie Poching - when Leeds were calling for a
penalty for interference - gave Wigan the platform for Tickle to drop
the winning goal.
There was still time for late drama as Senior, McGuire and Sinfield
broke clear, but Wigan held on to seal their place at Old Trafford.
"We're nearly there, but we're not there yet," said Warriors
assistant coach Denis Betts. "The performance was very solid and
built on character and faith in themselves and each other.
"I felt we were always in the game but we dropped off a couple of
times. They want to challenge themselves and we've got better each
"This is knockout football and it's who turns up on the day. We have
faith in our ability but come Saturday night it's down to the players
on the field. It will be a great game."
Rhinos coach Daryl Powell - who now moves into a director of rugby
role - said: "The players are absolutely gutted and they will feel,
justifiably, that they deserved to win the game.
"That was as well as we have played for a long time. We played a
pretty smart game but Wigan fought hard to win the game and I wish
"We're bitterly disappointed we haven't won but the players will use
it to galvanise them and pull together. They have learned a lot this
year and I'm proud of them."