|I had a very nice pre match ahead of this one, embarking on our second annual trans pennine train pub crawl. A good 20-30 of us took in the superb Sinclairs Oyster Bar in Manchester City Centre before hitting the pubs at Stalybridge, Marsden, Huddersfield, Dewsbury and Batley train stations. The best part of all that (apart from the excellent Timothy Taylor Landlord Beers "Windy" bought me) was that my total train travel costs were £3.30! The conductors never got anywhere near me!|
On arrival at Burley Park Station near Headingley we were greeted by heavy rain. Not nice again. Bemuses me how Headingley was given "Grade A" status by the RFL! It was so bad I made a toilet trip just to wring my shirt out. In the end I noticed "Gladys" had two coats so I put her other one on. Ok it was a bit feminine and that brought mockery from "Lawson" and "Ginger Dave" but at least I was dry.
I was in the ground just to see the end of the Under 20s curtain raiser that saw Shaun Ainscough, Cameron Phelps and Amos Roberts in action. They won 24-10 and some fans may be delighted that Roberts is building fitness, but in my opinion I wouldn't bring him back into the team. Fair enough he was the leagues best player before his injury but he's struggled since it. They tried to shoehorn him back in against Leeds (cup tie), St Helens and Warrington and I think that decision contributed to the fact we lost all three of those games. He just wasn't fit. Darrell Goulding is doing a good job and I say we stick with a settled side now the business end of the season is approaching.
When the match got under way I sensed in the first ten minutes that this was Wigan's game to win. Not just because Leeds foolishly tried a short kick off which failed miserably but whilst it was very tight up the middle, out wide we were able to make the break or half break which Leeds couldn't do themselves. This was highlighted by the opening try of the match, scored by Wigan, in the 9th minute.
Darrell Goulding made the half break close to the line but knew he didn't have the pace to beat Danny McGuire. Knowing the touchline would beat him, he kicked back inside allowing Thomas Leuluai to pounce over the line. Excellent try and a clear new tactic from Wigan because Pat Richards did exactly the same on the opposite wing at Hull. Conversion from Pat Richards made it 6-0.
Leeds had a couple of attacks after that try before an unsavoury incident in the 16th minute. Chasing down a last tackle kick, Carl Ablett smashed Sam Tomkins square on the jaw as he collected the ball. It looked bad at the game and even worse now I've seen it on TV. He should have gone for that considering Andy Coley walked for less at Catalans the other week. He may well get suspended after the game (he was put "On Report" but when you see players get away with that, yet get sin binned for minor offences its pretty annoying to say the least. Still I'm glad he stayed on because it stopped Leeds using 12 men as an excuse.
On 23 minutes Leeds had forced a drop out which was immediately wasted with Ryan Bailey running in with raised knees. That saw another "On Report" given by Ganson but more importantly a Wigan penalty on half way. Whilst we didn't score from that penalty it put Leeds deep in their own end of the field rather than attacking our line and soon after we would double our lead.
Chris Clarkson knocked on twenty from his own line and unlike in the Warrington match Wigan had to ability to punish. Brilliant try from George Carmont. Leuluai and Deacon combined before Carmont did superb to not only collect a bullet pass from Sam Tomkins but also ground the ball despite the best efforts of two defenders. Richards converted to make it 12-0.
Moments later Pat almost scored himself. Sam Tomkins chipped over towards the left wing and Scott Donald foolishly let it bounce. It went straight over his head and Pat almost pounced to score his 100th Wigan try but Donald just about got back at the expense of a drop out which Leeds survived.
So we had built up a solid 12-0 and looked pretty comfortable for it but I thought the middle part of the game was a poor show from Wigan. If we want to win the Grand Final I think we still need to learn how to control matches better. Conceding penalty after penalty is invited the opposition on to you and that's what Wigan kept doing.
It was from back to back penalties that Leeds claimed a try just before half time. Clarkson took his effort well and Sinfield's conversion made it 12-6 at the break.
Into the second half and referee Steve Ganson had warned Wigan that a yellow card was imminent for persistent offences and true to his word, first challenge of the half saw Andy Coley binned for a late challenge. Bit harsh in my view but they can't argue having been warned. But when you see that Ablett challenge go unpunished earlier it's very galling. During that ten minutes Leeds scored again to level the scores.
It came after Sam Tomkins had knocked on ten metres from his own line. Bit disappointing but rather than blaming him it was a collective fault for the team after failing to complete a set up the other end. Anyway, defence was not set and Keith Senior pounced to score. Sinfield converted to make it 12-12.
Whilst 12-12 was very nerve wracking at the time, it perhaps has done us a huge favour in the long run because we didn't collapse. We started again and it shows great character to win the match again, at Headingley, having given away a good lead.
Wigan soon got the lead back with Pat Richards kicking a penalty goal on 51 minutes to make it 14-12. His choice to do that has been wrong in recent games but on this occasion (easy in hindsight I know) it was a correct decision because it took a good minute of Coley's sin bin period.
The match was very tight now with neither side giving an inch. It was looking like it needed something special to win the contest and it came from Wigan on 62 minutes. Helped by a Jamie Peacock knock on half way, Wigan got the ball and Paul Deacon hit Harrison Hansen with a pass to send his breaking away from 40 metres out. His dash was heading towards me on the terrace and I'm sure I wasn't the only one to think he didn't have the pass. But he kept going and raced all the way to the line with Brett Delaney, Brent Webb and Danny McGuire all unable to catch him. It was a try worthy of winning any game of Rugby League. The conversion was crucial to make it a two score lead at 20-12.
After that I felt Wigan were back to being comfortable. They returned to the game plan and just did the basics in defence, which was too strong for Leeds. The only drama was a bit diagonal break from Jamie Peacock which took him from his own 30 metre line to Wigan's 30 but he knocked on trying to get a quick play the ball away.
Leeds were still pressing but they kept attempting last tackle kicks towards the beast that is Pat Richards. He's too good in the air and to be frank its a waste of time kicking towards him. This was shown with one kick from Rob Burrow on 68 minute which he easily diffused.
90 seconds after that Wigan went up the other end and sealed the contest. After a conceded penalty, which Pat was making huge yards on tonight, Martin Gleeson took advantage of poor blindside defence down the right wing to score what he described afterwards as a "cheeky try". Pat couldn't convert so at 24-12 Leeds still had a glimmer but although Ryan Hall had a try chalked off for a knock on, it was always going to be our night. A late penalty goal wrapped up an excellent win.
So for 24 hours at least Wigan go six points clear, meaning the league leaders tin pot is all but secure. More importantly we've put in two back to back displays that rubber stamp that our title bid is solid (if it needed it) after wobbles to St Helens and Warrington. We now get a whole month to keep fresh and get ready for our first play off game whilst are rivals not only have to play in the Challenge Cup but also sweat on league position. That should be a huge advantage to us but only time will tell.