Leeds Rhinos 0 Wigan Warriors 50: Hosts slump to record home defeat as gulf underlined
The Rhinos failed to lay a glove on the leaders as they slumped to their heaviest home defeat of the Super League era.
Leeds and Wigan are historically the biggest clubs in England – before St Helens muscled in on the conversation – but the Rhinos have fallen way behind their traditional Super League rivals, even if they are capable of beating them on any given day.
For all the talk about injuries and mid-season departures, the truth is an ill-equipped Leeds squad was horribly exposed on a baking hot afternoon at Headingley.
Whereas the Warriors have built a squad capable of winning the title this year and look even stronger for next season, the Rhinos are perennially in transition and do not look likely to mount a challenge in 2024 based on their business so far.
It is now six seasons since the eight-time Super League champions last finished in the top four, which is inexcusable for a club the size of the Rhinos. By contrast, Wigan and Saints have not missed out once between them during the same period.
If they weren't already, Leeds' play-off hopes are all but over with two rounds remaining of another lost season.
A positive start by the Rhinos was a distant memory by the end of a chastening afternoon.
Harry Newman wasted an early opportunity after Ash Handley patted back Jack Sinfield's lofted kick and then had a try ruled out for a double knock-on, much to the centre's frustration.
The floodgates opened on 15 minutes when Jake Wardle claimed Harry Smith's kick to touch down.
Leeds never recovered and it was one-way traffic from thereon in.
After Luke Hooley spilt the ball bringing it back on a kick return, Jai Field extended Wigan's lead after a lengthy check by the video referee.
The home supporters were convinced that Liam Farrell knocked on contesting a high kick but Field's try was eventually signed off.
With Handley struggling with the foot injury that forced him to sit out last week's win over Hull FC, the chances of a weary Leeds mounting a comeback were slim to none.
Wigan were at their solid best for much of the match but they have flair to go with it, as they demonstrated in a slick move for the third try.
Against a set defence that was well stocked, the Warriors moved the ball through the hands before Wardle accelerated into space to give Liam Marshall an easy finish.
As half-time approached, there was no mistaking the team going for the title and the side that just want this season to be over.
Wigan helped themselves to a fourth try before the interval after being gifted possession by the Rhinos in a theme of the game. From a scrum play, Wardle sauntered over from Field's pass.
After Smith knocked over his third conversion to make it 22-0 at the break, it was a case of how many points the Warriors would rack up in the second half.
Leeds were well and truly in damage limitation mode when Kai Pearce-Paul scored a minute into the second half after charging down Hooley's kick and racing through to support Morgan Smithies.
The Rhinos showed some desperation to hold up academy graduate Tyler Dupree over the line and had the chance to turn the screw on the back of a Hooley 40/20.
But they failed to stretch the Wigan defence and were back behind their posts after seeing Wardle coast over for his third try following an error by Tom Holroyd.
A miserable afternoon got worse for the Rhinos when their own fans joined the Wigan supporters in singing "Leeds are falling apart again" and followed it up with chants of "you're not fit to wear the shirt".
The tries kept coming, Abbas Miski easing over from Bevan French's drop-off and Farrell doing likewise after taking Field's pass.
With the Rhinos begging for the full-time hooter, Patrick Mago charged in under the sticks to give Smith the chance to bring up the half-century and spark more boos from a home crowd that have run out of patience.
Leeds Rhinos: Hooley, Fusitu'a, Newman, Martin, Handley, Gannon, Sinfield, Oledzki, O'Connor, Holroyd, McDonnell, Walters, Smith. Substitutes: Donaldson, Lisone, Johnson, Ruan.
Wigan Warriors: Field, Miski, King, Wardle, Marshall, French, Smith, Ellis, O'Neill, Byrne, Pearce-Paul, Farrell, Smithies. Substitutes: Powell, Mago, Nsemba, Dupree.
Referee: Jack Smith.