A CAREER first hat-trick by second-rower Stevie Ward helped Leeds Rhinos put their Challenge Cup disappointment behind them as they began their Betfred Super-8s campaign with this home win over Wigan Warriors last night.
Leeds led 10-0 early in the second quarter, but Wigan – who haven’t won at Headingley since 2012 – quickly levelled and it remained all square at the break.
Rhinos hit the front again straight after half-time, went 10 points clear with 25 minutes left and sealed the points with a couple of late touchdowns.
Six days after the 43-24 drubbing by Hull which ended Leeds’ Wembley hopes they proved –if they get their game together – they are real contenders for a Grand Final appearance.
Leeds’ win cut the gap on league leaders Castleford Tigers to eight points and they remain in second place, three points ahead of Hull.
With Salford and Wakefield both losing, Leeds have moved a step closer to a play-off place and made it harder for Wigan to make the top four.
Leeds led in the 18th minute when Jamie Jones-Buchanan embarked on a powerful run which saw him stopped just short of the line but then impeded by Sam Tomkins. From the resultant penalty, Leeds worked the ball 10 metres out to Ward, who superbly scythed through the Wigan defence to score inside the right channel.
Kallum Watkins missed the conversion attempt but Leeds soon added a second try in the 23rd minute when some delightful handling from Matt Parcell and Watkins led to Golding darting over from close range.
Watkins converted to make it 10-0 but Wigan replied in the 26th minute when winger Tom Davies took a pass from Tomkins to score in the right corner and finish off a fine flowing move.
Williams failed to convert but Davies was at it again soon after when he showed remarkable pace to seize on a mistake by Liam Sutcliffe and race 90 metres down the right flank to score.
Tempers flared six minutes before the break when Wigan prop Taulima Tautau appeared to lash out at Parcell, prompting Thaler to put the incident on report.
Hall’s surging run and clever kick sent Golding diving over for his second in the 45th minute.
Ten minutes later, Briscoe’s pass put Parcell over from close range and then Ward took a pass from Danny McGuire to score his second before he grounded a kick from the Leeds captain to complete his treble. Tomkins scored a late consolation.