Despite the two sides meeeting just a fortnight ago at the DW Stadium, it was a massively different Rhinos line up who began their Super Eights campaign at home to the Cup Finalists, Wigan Warriors.
The Warriors were 34-0 winners in the final round of the regular season and fielded a side with just three changes; Liam Farrell in the starting line up for Willie Isa, with the second rower moving to the bench where he was joined by Josh Ganson who was in for the suspended Sam Powell. Jack Wells also missed out for the Warriors.
Neither side would be able to change position at the end of the night but two points for the Rhinos would edge them closer to a play off place and would make it increasingly difficult for Wigan to make the top four.
After fairly even opening exchanges, Wigan had a ninth minute Liam Farrell try turned down for an obstruction but it was the Rhinos who were first on the scoreboard when Stevie Ward took a Danny McGuire pass and pushed past Farrell and Williams to dive over. Kallum Watkins failed to kick a simple looking conversion. With eighteen minutes on the clock the Rhinos were 4-0 ahead.
Wigan were immediately back on a defensive foot. After forcing a drop out the Rhinos grabbed their second as Ashton Golding took an inside pass from Watkins to step past the Wigan defence to score. Watkins added the conversion for 10-0 after twenty-three minutes.
On twenty-five Wigan opened their account when Tom Davies saw a gap down the left wing to take a Sam Tomkins pass and go over on the overlap. George Williams failed to convert from the touchline.
Wigan were on level terms thanks to a ninety metre Davies try after the Rhinos spilled the ball close to the Warriors line. He outpaced the Rhinos chasing defenders to score with ease, and improve the angle. Williams kicked the extras for 10-10 on the half hour mark.
As the first half had started with a Warriors try being denied by the video referee, it ended with Ryan Hall being denied one for the Rhinos and the sides went into the interval all square.
With forty-three on the clock the Rhinos edged back in front after a Ryan Hall break down the left touchline saw the winger kick inside for Ash Golding to pick up the bouncing ball and slide over for his second of the night, despite the attention of Joe Burgess. Kallum Watkins was disappointed not to be able to add the extra two.
The Rhinos scored another tremendous try on fifty-five after a Liam Sutcliffe break got them into the Warriors twenty passing to Joel Moon who put in a sensational offload to Matt Parcell enabling the hooker to spot a gap in the defence and dive over. Watkins added the extras for 20-10.
Stevie Ward put the outcome beyond doubt thanks to a Jimmy Keinhorst break, fast play the ball, Moon and McGuire passed to put the Leeds second-rower over for his second of the night. Watkins added the conversion for 26-10.
After Jamie Jones-Buchanan had driven close to the line, McGuire put in a cheeky grubber which was collected by Ward who spun out of an attempted tackle to cross for his hat-trick. Watkins added the conversion from under the sticks for 32-10.
Tomkins got a consolation on seventy-four when he spotted a gap and broke through on the angle to score in the right corner. Williams converted from wide for 32-16 but it was too little and too late as the Rhinos sat back on their big lead and awaited the final hooter.
This was a terrific game played between two sides who were up for a decent game of rugby league. Defences were uncompromising and there was flair from both sides in attack. The Rhinos put last weekend’s Challenge Cup disappointment behind them and probably took the crucial Super Eights points because they wanted it just a little bit more.
With results elsewhere the Rhinos did their top four finish no harm but the Warriors now drop to eighth behind the Huddersfield Giants who recorded a big win at home over Wakefield Trinity.