LEEDS Rhinos star Danny McGuire admits to being “shocked” by the physicality of champions Wigan Warriors after they brought his side’s seven-game winning run to an end.
The Super League leaders suffered only their second defeat of the season after being edged out in a quality, if at times brutal, contest at the Magic Weekend.
It had exploded in the 25th minute when Wigan’s stand-in captain, Michael McIlorum, was sin-binned for a high tackle on Jamie Peacock, and his team-mate John Bateman and Leeds prop Ryan Bailey were both yellow-carded for their part in the lengthy brawl that ensued.
There had been plenty of other niggling incidents, too, particularly from Bateman, and Wigan prop Dom Crosby was later put on report for what appeared to be a “spear” tackle on Leeds winger Ryan Hall.
With all the simmering tension, it left plenty thinking that there is certainly no love lost between these sides but McGuire insists such episodes were just part of the game between two of the sport’s heavyweights.
“It was a good battle,” he said, after depleted Wigan – missing seven first-team regulars and with four more defying medical advice to play – avenged their loss at Headingley a fortnight earlier.
“We knocked 10 bells out of each other for 80 minutes and that’s how it should be.
“We are playing rugby league, we’re not messing about. Both teams were trying to win and they came fired up and probably shocked us a bit in the first five or 10 minutes.
“They got stuck in and fair play to them. It was entertaining for the crowd and it’s good fun when you are out there, but credit to Wigan. I thought they played well and probably deserved it.”
That much is true. Leeds, missing five internationals themselves, had a late effort from Joel Moon turned down by the video referee officials but it was the right call as the Exiles centre had nudged the ball forward.
Wigan had defended manfully at times too to deny Brian McDermott’s side, not least one of their impressive youngsters – George Williams – who got back to drag down McGuire when the half-back looked to be on his way to restoring parity in the second half.
“They’ve got some young lads and they didn’t take a backwards step,” admitted the England international.
“But we stuck in there in the second half and made a good go of it. We could probably have snatched it at the end, but it wasn’t to be.
“It’s only our second loss but we’ll look to get straight back to winning ways on Friday. We know that’ll be tough, though, with Hull FC coming to Headingley on the back of a derby loss here.”
Wigan had taken the lead via Anthony Gelling’s 15th-minute try on Saturday, with Matty Smith converting and then adding a penalty.
But Leeds were unbowed and – in the set after Wigan were reduced to 11 men – retaliated with Hall scoring the first of his try double following an assist by Carl Ablett.
Kevin Sinfield could not convert and, with Wigan refusing to yield any further before being restored to a full complement, it was the Leeds captain who was left trailing when Blake Green threw a dummy to slice over impressively for Wigan’s second try in the 38th minute.
That left it 12-4 at the break, Wigan extending their advantage when McIlorum, the Leeds-born hooker who featured so prominently here as a makeshift loose forward, was found by Green’s pass when a rushing Bailey proved too eager in defence.
Smith improved the 55th-minute score but the inevitable surge from their old rivals occurred. It was not long before Ablett exposed some unusually weak defence to step over, Sinfield converting, and then Hall added his second – and 150th for the club – courtesy of a quality pass from Moon with 16 minutes to go.
That set up the frenetic finish but, ultimately, Leeds did not have the final push they so desperately needed.
“It was one of those that could go either way,” McGuire said, about the video referee decision. “We’ve no complaints. “We had a few chances in that second half, but fair play to them, they scrambled well and covered up and saved a lot of tries.”
Wigan lost Green late on with a suspected ruptured bicep adding to their injury woe but it was a rare sour point for coach Shaun Wane who described this victory, which takes the Warriors up to fourth in the table, as his “best win ever.”
Wigan: Bowen, Burgess, Sarginson, Gelling, Manfredi, Green, Smith, Taylor, Williams, Dudson, Bateman, Hughes, McIlorum. Substitutes: Goulding, Crosby, S. Powell, Sutton.
Leeds: Hardaker, Jones-Bishop, Sutcliffe, Moon, Hall, McGuire, Sinfield, Leuluai, Ablett, Peacock, Achurch, Clarkson, Delaney. Substitutes: Ward, Bailey, Kirke, Singleton.
Referee: Ben Thaler (RFL)