Leeds Rhinos 26 Wigan 14 (video): Creative cult hero shines as Leeds beat Warriors

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IT might say something that in a game where Danny McGuire, Kallum Watkins and Matty Smith were all present that the most creative player on the pitch was a prop.

But that is no sleight on the aforementioned; Leeds Rhinos’ Adam Cuthbertson is no ordinary front-row and he is quickly becoming a cult hero on the Headingley terraces.

Rhinos' Paul Aiton and Jamie Jones Buchanan celebrate Adam Cuthbertson's try

Rhinos' Paul Aiton and Jamie Jones Buchanan celebrate Adam Cuthbertson's try

The burly Australian, in his debut Super League season after moving from Newcastle Knights, looks like a prop but plays like an extra half-back such is his range of defence-splitting handling.

Struggling Wigan Warriors had no answer for him last night and it was perhaps no surprise their game increasingly resorted to high tackles and other niggling tactics as frustrations grew deeper.

Cuthbertson scored one try – his third in six games so far – created another for Brad Singleton, was heavily involved in a fine score for home debutant Ash Handley and generally caused mayhem as Leeds returned to winning ways after their first defeat last week at Warrington.

The 30-year-old produced another piece of exquisite skill – a standing offload to usher Joel Moon over late on – that was unfortunately called back by the video officials but the way in which he physically held off the defence showed he’s got some grunt, too.

Leeds coach Brian McDermott opted to play Zak Hardaker after he admitted, earlier in the week, assaulting a student but the full-back repaid him with two try-saving tackles on England colleague Joe Burgess in the final minutes that could have transformed the result. That would have been a travesty, though, given the hosts’ overall command.

It was strange, given Leeds’s general ascendancy, that they somehow only led 16-14 at the break.

The hosts were purposeful and slick from the start against a disjointed Wigan side that looked off the pace and like a team that has been struggling for form.

Yet the visitors were able to score twice with a couple of their few attacking opportunities to leave the game finely balanced.

Smith gave Shaun Wane’s side an 11th-minute lead after the England scrum-half supported Anthony Gelling, the centre who slipped Ryan Hall’s tackle and dummied Hardaker but almost came unstuck as McGuire tracked back to pull him down.

Smith converted and added a penalty soon after, perhaps realising his side might lack potency.

But then it was all Leeds as they delivered a devastating burst of three tries in just seven minutes.

Cuthbertson was the catalyst, the prop continuing to demonstrate once more why he has been tipped by Rhinos colleague Jamie Peacock to play for England - he qualifies as his father was born in Manchester.

After Wigan inexplicably contrived to mess up a second Leeds re-start, handing over possession again, he showed great awareness to latch onto Paul Aiton’s second cutting grubber of the evening in the 19th minute which Liam Sutcliffe, kicking in the absence of injured captain Kevin Sinfield, duly converted.

When Wigan infringed defending from the restart they were in again.

This time it was Cuthbertson’s offload that unleashed McGuire and, though the half-back was hauled in, Cuthbertson offered another link in the next play as fine handling from Sutcliffe, Stevie Ward and Watkins allowed winger Handley, on the 19-year-old’s home debut, to produce a finish the injured Tom Briscoe would have been proud of in the right corner.

Sutcliffe could not improve but his colleagues swiftly struck again, Cuthbertson’s soft pass to Singleton putting him over between the posts for a converted score.

Yet out of nothing, Wigan, who have now won just twice in seven games, responded in the 37th minute when Burgess collected George Williams’s chip kick on the full, Smith leaving them just two behind.

But Leeds pressed further in the second half, the visitors gradually wilting and their discipline badly waning.

After yet another high tackle, this time from Logan Tomkins, they were put on a team warning.

Leeds subsequently failed with some opportunities but Sutcliffe – who steered them well in place of Sinfield – finally stretched through from close range on the hour.

He missed the kick to keep it nervous but, after Cuthbertson’s sublime flicked pass had sent Watkins haring away, McGuire was pulled down brilliantly by Burgess.

At the next play, Liam Farrell was still coming back, blatantly offside as he tackled Watkins to deny a try-scoring opportunity and, though Sutcliffe touched down, referee Richard Silverwood awarded a penalty that the youngster kicked, Farrell brandished with a yellow card.

Rob Burrow then sneaked over to make sure though Burgess made them sweat with two breaks that Hardaker dealt with expertly.

It is Catalans Dragons in Perpignan in a week’s time for Leeds but they will be without England winger Briscoe for some time as he requires shoulder surgery.

McDermott explained: “It’s a shame for him. He’s been one the best wingers in the competition.

“He needs an operation and will be out for a number of weeks but, if there is any positive, it’s the right end of the year. He will be back in plenty of time for back end of the season.

“It was a tough old game for Ash to be involved in but he ran his weight and shows promise.”

As for Cuthbertson’s superb contribution, the Leeds coach added: “He’s been very good since he came.

“He looks like he’s been playing with us for years, he’s settled in really well.

“He’s a ball player but he also has the ability to make metres and put a shoulder into the tackles.

“He really deserved that man-of-the-match.”

Leeds Rhinos: Hardaker; Handley, Watkins, Moon, Hall; Sutcliffe, McGuire; Cuthbertson, Aiton, Peacock, Ablett, Ward, Jones-Buchanan. Substitutes: Burrow, Delaney, Yates, Singleton.

Wigan Warriors: Bowen; Manfredi, Gelling, Sarginson, Burgess; Williams, Smith; Club, McIllorum, Mossop, J Tomkins, L Farrell, Bateman. Substitutes: Tautai, Patrick, L Tomkins, C Farrell.

Referee: R Silverwood (Mirfield).