Leeds demonstrated all
their champion qualities to see off the brave challenge of Wigan
and set up a repeat of last year's Super League Grand Final
against St Helens at Old Trafford next Saturday.
bounced back in style from their crushing defeat by Saints a week
earlier to secure a fifth trip to Old Trafford with a well-earned
victory in a tense and dramatic final eliminator at Headingley.
The Rhinos edged an enthralling first half, with winger Lee
Smith scoring the only try, but the Warriors - who arrived less
than an hour before kick-off due to motorway congestion - were
well in the hunt until centre Keith Senior grabbed the
all-important match-clincher on the hour.
The champions dominated much of the
match but were continually thwarted by former winger Mark
Calderwood, who pulled off four try-saving tackles to keep the
Warriors' hopes alive on his final appearance for them.
But there was no denying the superiority of Brian McClennan's
men, who had brilliant performers in second row pair Jamie
Jones-Buchanan and Ali Lauitiiti.
It was physical, at times brutal, but entirely compelling, with
two players sin-binned and two others placed on report for alleged
foul play in a frenetic match.
Wigan battled to the end and were rewarded with a late tries by
Harrison Hansen and Iafeta Paleaaesina but the final whistle
signalled the end of the road for acting captain Trent Barrett,
who will return home to Australia next month without a Grand Final
appearance, while Calderwood, Liam Colbon and Mickey Higham also
brought their Warriors' career to an end.
There was a hint of things to come on 10 minutes when Smith was
put on report for apparently kicking Wigan second rower Phil
Bailey in the face.
Whether that was accidental or deliberate will be determined on
Monday by the League's match review panel, who will also be
interested in examining a free-for-all involving around half the
It stemmed from a superb tackle by Calderwood, who tracked back
70 metres to halt Jones-Buchanan, but then conceded a penalty by
diving on the ball from an offside position.
Calderwood was shown the yellow card for his offence while
Leeds centre Keith Senior joined him in the sin bin for his part
in the fracas.
Kevin Sinfield kicked the resultant penalty to put his side
ahead but Richards cancelled it out on 30 minutes after Gareth
Ellis had been pulled up for an off-the-ball challenge on Wigan
danger man Barrett.
The stalemate was finally broken six minutes before the break
when Matt Diskin combined with Sinfield to get stand-off Danny
McGuire racing into half a gap and Smith brought down his high
pass with aplomb to touch down.
The drama continued in the second half with that man Calderwood
again in the thick of the action.
First the former Leeds favourite pulled off another fine tackle
to stop Senior and then managed to get his body underneath
Lauitiiti to prevent the Rhinos substitute grounding the ball.
And, when Leeds pressed again, Lauitiiti found Jones-Buchanan
in space after re-gathering McGuire's high kick and looked all set
to score until Calderwood bundled him into the corner flag.
It was all Leeds in the third quarter and Wigan were grateful
next to George Carmont for a trysaving tackle on McGuire while
Calderwood came to the rescue again to stop Rob Burrow in full
flight for the line.
The pressure looked to have finally told on the Wigan line when
inspirational forward Jamie Peacock proved unstoppable from 10
metres out but, after spending five minutes examining slow-motion
replays, video referee Ian Smith decided the ball was not
The jeers of the home fans among the 13,212 crowd quickly
turned to cheers, however, when Lauitiiti was again involved down
the left-hand side and Senior took winger Scott Donald's inside
pass to touch down.
Sinfield landed the touchline conversion and added a second
penalty to give his side some breathing space at 14-2.
Wigan's late rally brought short-range tries for Hansen and
Paleaaesina, both converted by Richards, but Smith pounced on a
handling error to score an opportunist try and keep the Rhinos
just in front.