WATCH - Leeds Rhinos 26 Wigan Warriors 12: Luke Gale kicking masterclass sends Leeds to Wembley

U2’s Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of was playing as Wigan Warriors’ Jackson Hastings hurdled puddles to warm-up ahead of today’s Coral Challenge Cup semi-final.

By the end of the first period, though, his side had been stuck in a half they couldn’t get out of: their own.

Leeds Rhinos, inspired by captain and scrum-half Luke Gale, delivered a true wet weather rugby masterclass to build up what proved an unassailable 20-0 interval lead.

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Given the incessant rain continued to lash down so heavily at a drenched St Helens’ Totally Wicked Stadium, it was obvious they were already well on their way to Wembley for the first time since lifting the Cup in 2015.

Richard Agar’s side, who will play Warrington Wolves or Salford Red Devils in the final in a fortnight’s time, were almost faultless in a superb 40 minute performance that set the tone.

Moreover, their defence was so steely that Wigan did not breach them until Harry Smith’s breakaway try in the 75th minute, Zak Hardaker quickly adding another to leave a final scoreline that did not do justice to just how dominant and professional Rhinos truly were.

Gale’s pinpoint kicking, that continually turned winger Joe Burgess and kept dangerman Bevan French out of the game, was as relentless as the rain meaning the favourites struggled to make any headway.

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Australian-born Hastings is the reigning Steve Prescott Man of Steel and was Great Britain’s scrum-half last autumn.

Luke Gale leads Rhinos celebrations after another try against Wigan (PIC: BRUCE ROLLINSON)Luke Gale leads Rhinos celebrations after another try against Wigan (PIC: BRUCE ROLLINSON)
Luke Gale leads Rhinos celebrations after another try against Wigan (PIC: BRUCE ROLLINSON)

However, the 32-year-old Gale - who has excelled at hometown Leeds since his off-season move from Castleford Tigers - demonstrated here just why new England coach Shaun Wane selected him instead in his provisional squad for the Ashes series that never happened.

If the Kangaroos tour had not been cancelled due to Covid, with his organising and distributing quality allied to those stellar kicking skills, he would undoubtedly have been in the reckoning for a jersey with Jonny Lomax and George Williams.

Keeping things simple, Rhinos’ ball control, given those conditions, was excellent, Matt Prior’s fumble playing the ball in the 35th minute their only handling error of the half.

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Even then, Wigan’s Joe Bullock immediately coughed up possession as his side continued to splutter, just as their usually talismanic captain Sean O’Loughlin had done in the early exchanges.

Leeds Rhinos' Rhyse Martin crashes over (PIC: BRUCE ROLLINSON)Leeds Rhinos' Rhyse Martin crashes over (PIC: BRUCE ROLLINSON)
Leeds Rhinos' Rhyse Martin crashes over (PIC: BRUCE ROLLINSON)

O’Loughlin’s ball-strip on Rhyse Martin led to the Leeds second-row kicking his side into the lead on 13 minutes and he was soon converting his own try, hitting Robert Lui’s inside ball from a standing start after Gale’s masterful 40/20 further tormented Burgess.

England captain O’Loughlin, the 37-year-old who had been rolled out for his first game since February to help beat Hull FC in the quarter-finals, was then penalised again for a high tackle on Prior, gifting Martin another two points.

It was the Papua New Guinea captain Martin who, then, charged the subdued French back behind his own goalline to force a drop-out as Gale continued to pepper Wigan with his array of kicks.

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When Wigan had their sole visit to Leeds’ 20 - as late as the 28th minute - Richie Myler brilliantly defused Jake Bibby’s kick to turn defence into attack.

Agar opted against selecting Jack Walker, his first-choice full-back who, after a broken foot, had only played his first game in eight months against Catalans Dragons on Wednesday.

The versatile Myler has been such an able deputy, there was no need to risk the England Knights player so soon.

Soon after, it was his swift hands that ushered Ash Handley over for the first of his brace after Liam Sutcliffe rose high to palm down Gale’s latest hanging crossfield kick.

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A Martin grubber saw French - the electric Australian full-back normally so used to concentrating on his attacking game - desperately scrambling to deny Alex Mellor a further try.

Nevertheless, the West Yorkshire club scored in the resultant set, centre Konrad Hurrell showing lovely hands to cut-out Myler and smuggle Tom Briscoe in on the stroke of half-time.

Of course, it would be impossible to maintain that level of outstanding ball retention in the second period and, inevitably, Wigan finally came to life.

They thought Dom Manfredi had scored in the 49th minute but it was ruled out after video referee Ben Thaler spotted a knock-on by thomas Leuluai beforehand.

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After Hurrell also had an effort chalked off, Myler got underneath Joe Greenwood to prevent the Wigan second-row - on loan at Leeds before shutdown - and Agar’s side continued to prove shatter-proof.

It was another Gale kick that left French fumbling around and Sutcliffe showed his class once more to offer another assist for Handley’s second in the 68th minute.

Martin’s third penalty of the game increased the lead before Wigan’s late blast, both converted by Hardaker, saved their blushes slightly.

Leeds Rhinos: Myler; T Briscoe, L Sutcliffe, Hurrell, Handley; Lui, Gale; Seumanufagau, Leeming,Oledski, Mellor, Martin, Prior. Substitutes: Dwyer, Smith, Holroyd, Donaldson.

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Wigan Warriors: French; Manfredi, hardaker, Bibby, J Burgess; Leuluai, Hastings; Harvard, Powell, Partington, Isa, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Substitutes: Bullock, Greenwood, Shorrocks, Smith.

Referee: Chris Kendall (Huddersfield)

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