Wigan Warriors 26 Leeds Rhinos 24: McGuire denied at the last as Rhinos fall short

LEEDS Rhinos produced one of their finest performances of a frustrating season only to be made to pay for a lax five-minute spell ruthlessly exploited by Wigan Warriors.

The champions, who had fought back to salvage a late draw at Headingley Carnegie in April, were behind again last night trailing 18-12 at half-time.

Leeds, on the back of a disappointing home loss against Bradford, had been magnificent with a well-disciplined and organised display which left their high-flying opponents unusually at odds with themselves.

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However, they conceded two soft tries straight after the break, switching off twice, and, despite an inspired fightback of their own with Zac Hardaker’s second try, they could not finish on top of an enthralling encounter.

Danny McGuire – returning to the ground where he suffered his major knee injury last September – thought he had earned them a win when he dinked through in the 74th minute but video referee Steve Ganson rightly ruled the England stand-off had dropped the ball before it found his boot.

Leeds, who went ahead through a fourth minute Kevin Sinfield penalty, looked in the mood from the off, illustrated by a huge driving tackle from Danny Buderus as Josh Charnley tried returning a deeply-placed Sinfield kick.

That obvious desire was matched by defensive discipline as well; where Huddersfield Giants had rushed in and erred a week ago, allowing Sam Tomkins to run riot, Leeds’s well-marshalled line dealt easily, in the first half at least, with Wigan’s wide runners and gave nothing away.

Brent Webb’s mouth is another matter however. The Kiwi full-back argued about a blatant forward pass he had delivered and was, yet again, penalised for dissent from which Wigan struck in the 14th minute.

Joel Tomkins charged in and swatted McGuire aside like a rag doll before throwing out a pass to see Charnley scurry over.

Richards converted but the visitors responded in a positive fashion, another forceful tackle seeing Ryan Hoffman fumble while trying to get to his feet.

From there, Brett Delaney was only denied off Sinfield’s bullet pass by Brett Finch’s excellent tackle but, at the next play, Webb dabbed through a little kick which Ben Jones-Bishop bravely latched onto.

The 22-year-old winger, who made such a bright start to the campaign before going under the knife for shoulder surgery, showed some marvellous touches on his return from injury.

Coming in for the injured Ryan Hall, he out-manoeuvred George Carmont on a couple of occasions with some neat footwork and turn of pace, almost creating a try for Lee Smith who was only thwarted by Sam Tomkins’s last-ditch tackle.

When the England full-back then snaffled Sinfield while offside, he really should have been yellow-carded for the blatant professional foul.

It mattered little though as, soon after, following another uncharacteristic Wigan handling error from Richards, Webb stepped inside a flailing Paul Deacon and stretched over.

Sinfield converted again to establish a 14-6 lead only to see Sam Tomkins escape for the only real time in the half, finding space outside Ryan Bailey to advance and strike deep into Leeds territory.

Finch’s high kick saw Richards rise above Jones-Bishop and palm down to Hoffman to score although there was a hint of forward as Ganson ruled.

Richards improved from wide out but Wigan dropped possession once more as they went wide, Chris Tuson this time failing to take another Deacon pass.

Rob Burrow darted out of dummy half to find a long, looping pass which Carl Ablett patted on to Hardaker as Charnley rushed in.

The young winger – who has adapted to Super League brilliantly since his switch from Featherstone – showed great awareness and natural finishing prowess to dive at the line as the cover came across.

That put them 18-12 ahead at the break but Leeds inexplicably failed to deal with Richards’s kick-off and, from that possession, he himself finished although George Carmont’s final pass was blatantly forward to the ire of the visiting fans.

He converted and did so again in the re-start set as Finch’s brilliantly delayed short pass opened Leeds up, Hoffman providing the link for Carmont who had made the original break down the left.

McGuire did his utmost to drag them back into the contest, as did captain Sinfield who looked far more like himself, meaning Wigan gladly accepted a penalty in the 63rd minute to ease the pressure on them.

They needed it as Hardaker hurried onto McGuire’s dinked kick in the 71st minute, Sinfield’s touchline conversion giving his side hope before McGuire thought he had completed the job.

Wigan Warriors: S Tomkins; Charnley, J Tomkins, Carmont, Richards; Finch, Deacon; Mossop, T Leuluai, Lima, Hansen, Hoffman, O’Loughlin. Substitutes: Prescott, Tuson, McIlorum, Coley.

Leeds Rhinos: Webb; Hardaker, Smith, Ablett, Jones-Bishop; Sinfield, McGuire; K Leuluai, Buderus, Peacock, Delaney, Jones-Buchanan, Clarkson. Substitutes: Burrow, Bailey, Lauitiiti, Kirke.

Referee: T Alibert (Toulouse).