Wigan Warriors 0 Leeds Rhinos 8: Gutsy Leeds just 80 minutes from Old Trafford

WHEN it comes to the Betfred Super League play-offs, it really does not matter how you win.

Leeds Rhinos' Ash Handley scores his side's opening try. (JONATHAN GAWTHORPE)

Leeds Rhinos know that only too well after digging in with a gritty, resilient and dogged performance to knock Wigan Warriors out of contention tonight and leave them just 80 minutes from the Grand Final.

Richard Agar’s side barely had a chance all evening against opponents who finished just above them in fourth place but they crucially scored the only try of the game via Ash Handley in the 50th minute.

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Next, Leeds will face either League Leaders Shield winners Catalans Dragons in Perpignan next Thursday or visit champions St Helens the following night for a place at Old Trafford on October 9.

They will have to improve their attacking quality against either but, with such character and togetherness, they cannot be ruled out.

Wigan had been nilled at home for the first time since 1991 when Leeds won there 14-0 just four weeks ago and, remarkably, the West Yorkshire club quickly repeated the feat to end Adrian Lam’s reign.

The game had been kept scoreless in the first period with few attacking chances of note and some punishing defence.

England star Zak Hardaker, in particular, must have felt like he had gone 12 rounds with Anthony Joshua.

The Wigan full-back was on the end of a number of hefty tackles, not least from Matt Prior who bullied him to the ground at one point, and then Mikolaj Oledzki who rattled him with a big hit on a kick return.

However, the former Rhinos favourite was well-shackled almost every time he received possession, whether being bundled back behind his own goalline by Kruise Leeming or being marched sideways by Rob Lui.

The problem for the visitors, though, was they struggled to make any mark with their greater possession.

Five handling errors in the first half - mostly unforced errors - meant they were unable to build the pressure they desired.

Leeds Rhinos' Bodene Thompson takes on Wigan Warriors. (JONATHAN GAWTHORPE)

Bodene Thompson spilled after Leeming had forced that drop-out, Oledzki - back after missing the last eight games injured - spilled on his first touch on the first tackle after a penalty while Brad Dwyer and Leeming both nudged needless forward passes.

It was not until the 35th minute that the crowd was on their feet anticipating a try and that came at the other end.

Harry Smith, the Wigan half-back, dinked a reverse chip back towards the middle which had Leeds full-back Richie Myler desperately scrambling as Hardaker raced towards it.

Fortunately, Handley just got there in time and, for his effort and to continue the bruising theme, felt John Bateman’s knees in his ribs as they both slid in for the ball.

Leeds Rhinos' Kruise Leeming is well met by Wigan Warriors. (JONATHAN GAWTHORPE)

It perhaps should not have been surprising there was such a stalemate; no club - not even relegated Leigh Centurions - has scored fewer than Wigan’s average of 15 points per game this term and they went five tryless halves in succession recently.

That included that recent loss to Leeds at DW Stadium - when Zane Tetevano received his three-game ban for a high tackle - and their dull, unattractive style has left many fans disillusioned.

Wigan, beaten in the last second in last year's Grand Final, won three of their next four games after that but their old problems came back to haunt them here and it means there is no fairytale finish for the likes of Lam and departing players such as Wests Tigers-bound Jackson Hastings and Oliver Gildart.

Leeds simply never budged. Richie Myler made a rare error when spilling a kick at the start of the second half but the resilient visitors defended stoutly.

Harry Smith had a glimmer of a chance when he raced on to a Bateman pass as the England second-row angled back towards the posts but the young scrum-half spilled with the line begging.

It proved costly; at the end of the next set, Leeds finally broke the deadlock.

The Leeds Rhinos coaching team of Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Sean Long and Richard Agar prepare for their half-time analysis with the game locked at 0-0. (JONATHAN GAWTHORPE)

Leeming hoisted a high kick and Myler beat Wigan winger Jake Bibby to it to cleverly tap towards Handley, the winger who scrambled over for his seventh try of the season.

Rhyse Martin converted and, though Wigan tried working their way back into the game, they offered little threat with so many of their sets metering out to nothing.

Leeds, as always, remained well-organised and steely in defence, working hard continuously, but even they will concede they were rarely posed any real problems or pulled worryingly apart.

Instead, they continued doing the basics well themselves, enough to work position for Leeming to attempt a drop goal in the 70th minute.

That was narrowly wide but, just three minutes later, Wigan forward Ollie Partington illegally stripped the ball from Oledzki to offer Martin the simplest of penalties and give Leeds a crucial 8-0 advantage.

To compound matters, soon after, Partington wasted a potential chance by lashing out at Cameron Smith when in possession, conceding another penalty. Game over.

Wigan Warriors: Hardaker; Bibby, Isa, Gildart, Marshall; Smith, Hastings; Singleton, Powell, Partington, Bateman, Farrell, Smithies. Substitutes: Byrne, Harvard, Pearce-Paul, Shorrocks.

Leeds Rhinos: Myler; L Briscoe, Newman, T Briscoe, Handley; Lui, Leeming; Thompson, Dwyer, Prior, Donaldson, Martin, Tetevano. Substitutes: Oledzki, Hurrell, Holroyd, Smith.

Referee: Robert Hicks (Oldham)

Leeds Rhinos' Mikolaj Oledzki tries to evade Wigan Warriors' John Bateman. (JONATHAN GAWTHORPE)