|Real grinder of a win tonight by Wigan against a depleted Leeds side. Don't let the Rhinos injury problems shine away from the effort though. Brian McClennan's outfit were well marshalled by Danny McGuire and Rob Burrow and we did well to halt them to just four points.|
The injuries at Headingley saw Scott Donald, Brett Delaney, Kylie Leuluai, Jamie Peacock, Kevin Sinfield, Greg Eastwood, Carl Ablett and Kallum Watkins missing whilst Wigan had Harrison Hansen (Shoulder) and Cameron Phelps (thigh) absent. The injury to Phelps saw Darrell Goulding return, whilst Mike McIlorum made his first appearance of the campaign, replacing Chris Tuson in the 17.
The visitors started the contest much stronger but confusion reigned when Leeds forced a drop out on 4 minutes. Referee Steve Ganson had deemed that Sam Tomkins had "diffused" a bomb in goal but video referee Thierry Alibert rightly corrected that it should be a drop out because Sam had jumped from in the field of play. Leeds then got a penalty from the drop out and perhaps they would have been better served to start chipping away at Wigan with penalty goals, considering the huge absences? But instead they tapped and soon knocked on.
Wigan were struggling to reach the Rhinos half. It took 8 minutes for us to finally get into an attacking position but, under pressure, Sean O'Loughlin knocked on our first chance to score as he tried to gather a grubber from Thomas Leuluai. Another Wigan attack soon followed, off the back of a penalty, but again the set was ended with an error from Andy Coley.
The match began to get bogged down in midfield, with penalties being required to built up try scoring positions. Leeds got such an opportunity after Stuart Fielden was penalised for interference on 17 minutes. From that, Jamie Jones-Buchanan went close to scoring but knocked on trying to take a pass near the line.
Wigan completion rate after 22 minutes was 50%, that really summed up their performance so far. Leeds weren't much better at 64%. It was really scrappy stuff and the conditions provided no excuse for it! Coach Michael Maguire was looking to change tact with the introduction of Mike McIlorum for his first appearance of 2010 but he went back off after just 3 minutes with a back injury.
The game needed a clean break to spark it into life and it came on 26 minutes from Leeds. Brent Webb got an offload away to send Danny Maguire on the break and he sent Rob Burrow racing to the line. He looked like he was a certain try scorer, but with help from the video referee's opinion, it was deemed that Richards and also Leuluai had held him up. Perhaps a big pivotal decision in the game? First try was going to be important the way this game had shaped up. NO TRY flashed on the big screen, much to Wigan fan's relief. Having said that I think both passes in the build up were forward anyway, so justice was probably served.
That relief soon turned into joy with Wigan finally getting the scoreboard ticking on 33 minutes. It came after a drop out had been forced by Goulding. On the left wing George Carmont beat a poor tackle attempt by Ryan Hall to score a neat try. Richards converted from wide to make it 6-0.
To be honest I was happy with 0-0 at that point because Leeds had slightly edged the contest. To be in the lead was a big bonus I felt. It looked like Wigan would reach half time comfortably until Burrow kicked a 40/20 with a minute to go. They couldn't get over though and so the half time score was 6-0 to Wigan.
I was quite confident going into the second half because I knew Wigan could play a lot better than they had shown in the first 40. But that confidence got an early fright when Leeds hit back within five minutes of the restart. Knock on by Eamon O'Carroll, under his own sticks, gifted them easy territory and quick hands saw Ryan Hall squeeze over in the right corner. Luckily Kevin Sinfield wasn't on the field and they had to rely on Rob Burrow to convert. He's not quality and he proved that with a miss. 6-4 though, Leeds back in it.
At this point Sam Tomkins came off injured with a thigh problem. It he had been playing with it heavily strapped anyway, so it obviously got the better of him. We also had Mark Riddell struggling with a shoulder injury, on top of the earlier injury to McIlorum and Andy Coley had a knock on his ankle. This left us with limited interchange options. To cover for Sam, Sean O'Loughlin made the switch to stand off with Joel Tomkins filling in at loose forward.
Those injuries didn't affect Wigan and they would soon build up enough pressure to increase their narrow lead. A neat grubber from Joel Tomkins helped Gleeson and Goulding force a drop out but having broke out of tackles, Stuart Fielden wasted it by allowing the ball to be stole off him one on one by Luke Burgess.
Didn't matter because on the next attack Richards broke across the field from left to right. Got tackled about 30 metres out, quick play the ball got Leeds on the back foot and eventually O'Loughlin threw a long ball out wide to send Goulding over in the corner. Richards then hit a sweet touchline conversion to make it 12-4. That lead wouldn't be that significant with Kevin Sinfield on the pitch but with Burrow goal kicking, it made me feel the game was ours to lose.
Stuart Fielden did his best to try and give Leeds and easy route back into the game by knocking on from the restart. He was adamant he'd been interfered with but he got a ticking off after arguing with the pedantic referee Ganson. The arguing saw Leeds given a penalty and although Fielden did respond with a big hit on the first tackle, he would have been thankful that the set ended up with a knock on.
Next try was obviously going to be crucial and it looked like Leeds would get it when youngster Tom Bush broke clear from his own in goal down the left wing. Roberts came across from full back to halt his break and with the defence struggling to get back in position, he cleverly stole the ball one on one to give Wigan back possession. That's the difference between youth and experience!
A try didn't result from the ball steal but it did enough to peg Leeds back deep in their own half and they didn't help themselves with a last tackle kick out on the full by Webb. The pressure soon told with the superb O'Loughlin sending Joel Tomkins over from close range. Richards couldn't convert so at 16-4 the Rhinos still had a glimmer of hope.
That glimmer didn't last long with Wigan sealing the two points on the next attack. Roberts went probing at the line, got an offload away to Joel Tomkins, who then found Gleeson to send Goulding over for his second of the night, and seventh try in all this season. Not bad for a supposed reserve player! Richards booted a conversion off the touchline and with 16 minutes remaining the contest was over at 22-4.
Wigan shut up shop after that and chipped away with a penalty goal on 71 minutes. Leeds desperately tried to score late on but the video ref chalked another potential try of theirs off in the last minute. Full time score then was 24-4 to Wigan.
So in conclusion, whilst Wigan had probably timed their meeting with Leeds well they had to contend with their own injuries at a crucial time in this contest. So this win is very pleasing. Sam Tomkins didn't return in the last 30 minutes and could be doubtful for the Easter period. Mark Riddell is another injury concern but for Saints away, surely you just need to strap yourself up and deal with any injury afterwards? Mike McIlorum didn't last long during his first spell tonight but he did return towards the back end of the game, which suggests he will be fit and ready next week.