Leeds Rhinos 22 Wigan Warriors 20: Mission accomplished for historic Rhinos team

PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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Mission accomplished. Career complete. Job Done.

Whichever way you describe it, Leeds Rhinos’ trio of departing legends Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai have signed off in perfect style tonight as they secured one last Grand Final glory at Old Trafford.

In defeating Wigan Warriors during a tension-filled finale, indefatigable Leeds also completed the treble for the first time amid glorious scenes at a sold-out Old Trafford.

Of course, all the attention was on Sinfield, the illustrious captain who now ends his 19-year stay with the club to join Yorkshire Carnegie and retiring props Peacock and Leuluai who, between them, have played more than 1,000 games for the blue and amber.

Indeed, fittingly, it was Sinfield’s conversion - his 1,792nd goal kick for the club - that clinched an epic contest.

However it was a player who forms part of the club’s future - 21 year-old second-row Josh Walters - who scored the crucial try just moments after coming on his first Grand Final to leave his captain with the simple two points to essentially win an absorbing contest in the 63rd minute.

Walters was not even sure of playing, earning selection ahead of fellow youngster Jordan Lilley, but he instantly made his mark.

Leeds, who finished top ahead of Wigan after 30 rounds only by virtue of a superior points difference, had to hang on times but they, undoubtedly, are worthy champions.

Rhinos’ Danny McGuire won the Harry Sunderland Trophy as man-of-the-match following his two first-half tries to set up a 16-6 interval lead but Wigan stormed back, inspired by the brilliant Matty Bowen, with two quickfire tries at the start of the second period.

Sinfield, 35, lifted the trophy for a record-extending seventh time but Wigan will look at Joel Moon’s distinctly questionable try for Leeds in the 27th minute as perhaps a moment that cost them.

Some terrific Wigan defence had looked to have kept their opponents out but when McGuire lost possession under pressure from George Williams the ball fell loose and was worked to Moon who scrambled over.

Referee Ben Thaler deemed it was a try but went to his colleagues upstairs for confirmation.

Replays seemed to suggest the ball bounced forward when McGuire was tackled but the video officials, to the consternation of the Wigan fans and most neutrals, awarded the score.

Soon after, Leeds were in for their third try but this time there was no denying its legality or brilliance.

McGuire’s long pass gave Tom Briscoe just enough room to get on the outside of Joe Burgess and then Kallum Watkins looped around to create the overlap, gliding down the touchline before finding McGuire inside for the finish.

Former England captain Sinfield improved to send Leeds in 16-6 at the break, Brian McDermott’s side having recovered well from a slow start.

Burgess scorched over after just four minutes when Liam Farrell exposed Sinfield and surged clear from deep for Matty Bowen to convert.

However, their scrum-half Matty Smith inexplicably fumbled the hoisted restart offering Leeds an immediate chance to respond.

They duly did, Sinfield’s delicate grubber bouncing up perfectly for McGuire who timed his run from the inside to perfection, his captain converting for 6-6.

Defences were then generally on top although Wigan will be furious for the manner in which they conceded cheap possession - Dom Manfredi penalised for needlessly tackling Ryan Hall in the air as the Leeds winger rose to take Smith’s high kick behind his own goalline - to offer position for McGuire’s second.

Zak Hardaker and Cuthbertson were called upon to deny a charging Farrell at the start of the second period but it was only delaying the inevitable.

Wigan forced a drop-out - most of their chasers were offside as Hardaker was hurried into patting the ball dead - but it looked like they were struggling for ideas against Leeds’ well-organised defence.

However, Sean O’Loughlin looked up and spotted Manfredi lurking out wide.

Hall looked to have claimed the high kick but as the England winger came back to ground his rival stripped the ball from him to score, Bowen doing the rest.

Then, after Briscoe failed to intercept Oliver Gildart’s pass, Wigan got another chance to strike.

Bowen produced a dazzling, weaving run down the middle that left four defenders trailing in his wake clutching at shadows and his conversion put the Cherry and Whites 18-16 ahead.

Larne Patrick then spilled going for the line and Shaun Wane’s side wasted another chance when Joel Tomkins’ fine flick pass was dropped by Manfredi.

Bowen slotted a 62nd minute penalty to stretch it to 20-16 after Michael McIlorum threw a dummy-half pass straight at Watkins as the Leeds player was left grounded in the ruck.

It is fair to say they were on top then but their advantage remained slim as was illustrated soon after.

Leeds scored with their first real chance of the half just a minute later, Walters over after Manfredi spilled McGuire’s kick and Moon and Jimmy Keinhorst both showed great alacrity to get the ball to the youngster who celebrated wildly in front of the elated Leeds fans.

Sinfield converted to regain the lead, Walters - the former Yorkshire Carnegie player who was working in the club shop last year - departed having injured himself in the process.

It was typically brutal at times, both Sinfield and Cuthbertson - the Man of Steel nominee surprisingly starting on the bench tonight - both needing to have head wounds bandaged.

But it was an epic, exhilarating game, delivering on all the pre-match hype, and possibly the greatest Grand Final yet.

Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker; Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Peacock, Burrow, Garbutt, Delaney, Ablett, Singleton. Substitutes: Leuluai, Cuthbertson, Keinhorst, Walters.

Wigan Warriors: Bowen; Manfredi, Bateman, Gildart, Burgess; Williams, Smith; Crosby, McIlorum, Flower, J Tomkins, L Farrell, O’Loughlin. Substitutes: Powell, Clubb, Mossop, Patrick.

Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield)