Wigan Warriors 8 Leeds Rhinos 20: Heroic effort books first Grand Final since 2017

Ten years on from winning back-to-back Super League titles from fifth, Leeds Rhinos are turning back the clock.

The Rhinos evoked the spirit of 2012 to end Wigan Warriors' perfect home record and book a first trip to Old Trafford in five years.

It will not be lost on the club's fans that Leeds beat Catalans Dragons and Wigan on the road to their last triumph from fifth.

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If the Rhinos go on to lift the Super League trophy for a ninth time, this one would top the lot.

Leeds spent the early part of the year on the canvas after the worst start to a season in the club's history.

But under Rohan Smith, the Rhinos have picked themselves up to floor a series of Super League heavyweights on a remarkable run to Old Trafford.

Leeds' season has been on the line for weeks, even months, and it showed in a performance full of heart and no little belief.

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The indefatigable James Bentley was the hero with a second-half double after the resolute Rhinos got to the break only two points down.

James Bentley celebrates scoring the Rhinos' second try. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)James Bentley celebrates scoring the Rhinos' second try. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)
James Bentley celebrates scoring the Rhinos' second try. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

The one sour note could see Aidan Sezer ruled out of the Grand Final after finding himself on the receiving end of a high, late hit that earned John Bateman a red card.

Leeds were worthy winners and could welcome back a host of key men for next Saturday's decider against St Helens or Salford Red Devils.

For the first time since the golden generation, the Rhinos have a twinkle in their eye again.

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The new era has brought a Challenge Cup but under Smith they are beginning to look like the Rhinos of old.

The Australian encourages his players to express themselves and play what they see, a philosophy that served Leeds so well under his uncle, Tony Smith.

But the most impressive aspect of the Rhinos' run to the Grand Final has been their resilience and sheer will to win.

The first half went to script with the fresher side dominating proceedings.

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Although they won the energy battle, with the ball Wigan had the look of a team that had not had a meaningful hit-out together since beating St Helens three weeks ago.

In the absence of Ash Handley and David Fusitu'a - two strong carriers out of yardage - the Rhinos were penned inside their own half for virtually the entire opening 40 minutes.

What they lacked in go-forward they made up for in defensive resolve.

Wigan's only first-half try came from a fortuitous turnover near halfway. Morgan Smithies charged down Blake Austin's kick and later in the set Liam Marshall beat Tom Briscoe out wide to touch down in the corner.

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Harry Smith, who had the ball on a string in general play, missed his touchline conversion and sent a penalty wide from a central position later in the half to underline the tension inside the DW Stadium.

Wigan set up camp on the Leeds line and hammered away without success, repelled time and again by well-organised goal-line defence.

The Rhinos did not look back once they found a way out, a moment that arrived when Zak Hardaker made ground on a kick return.

Leeds rolled up the field for the first time and got their reward in the form of a penalty in front of the posts, duly knocked over by Hardaker.

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After waiting 33 minutes to play the ball inside the Wigan 20, the Rhinos went into half-time the happier side despite trailing 4-2.

What happened next had to be seen to be believed as Leeds put one foot in the Grand Final.

The Rhinos came flying out of the blocks after the interval and caught Wigan napping, Jarrod O'Connor scurrying over from dummy-half on the last tackle in front of a jubilant away end.

It went from bad to worse for the Warriors after seeing Bevan French hobble off and Bentley land another devastating blow by touching down Sezer's kick.

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Hardaker made it three from three from the boot to nudge Leeds 14-4 ahead and there was no way back for the Warriors when Bateman saw red for a horror challenge on Sezer.

Wigan rallied with 12 men but they cut a beaten team after Marshall failed to ground Smith's kick into the corner.

The outstanding Bentley scored a second after good work by Cameron Smith and even Sam Powell's late try could not take the gloss off an unforgettable win.

Wigan Warriors: Field, French, Pearce-Paul, Bibby, Marshall, Smith, Leuluai, Singleton, Powell, Byrne, Isa, Bateman, Smithies.

Substitutes: Mago, Ellis, Havard, Cooper.

Leeds Rhinos: Myler, Briscoe, Hardaker, Sutcliffe, Tindall, Austin, Sezer, Oledzki, O'Connor, Prior, Bentley, Tetevano, Smith.

Substitutes: Leeming, Donaldson, Walters, Thompson.

Referee: Liam Moore.

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