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Super League: Leeds Rhinos end regular season with 20-6 victory over Wigan Warriors
Reigning champions Leeds warmed up for a tilt at a third consecutive Super League title by rounding off the regular season with a 20-6 victory over Wigan on Thursday night.
The Rhinos looked a class act as they triumphed in a full-blooded, high-class encounter at the DW Stadium to secure a third-place finish and a trip to Warrington in the opening round of the play-offs.
Wigan led 6-4 at half-time but finished a well-beaten side and, after leading the table for long periods of the season, must settle for a fourth-place finish.
That means a trip for the Challenge Cup winners to league leaders Huddersfield in next Thursday's opening play-off tie and they will need a remarkable transformation after finishing their Super League campaign with seven defeats in nine matches.
The Warriors were led by Sam Tomkins in the absence of inspirational captain Sean O'Loughlin, who was once more sorely missed.
Any suggestion that the teams had little incentive to win was quickly dispelled as both sets of players showed a willingness to spill blood for the cause.
Leeds' stoical forward Jamie Peacock was forced off for stitches after a heroic first 26 minutes and Wigan second rower Harrison Hansen followed him into the dressing rooms after clashing heads with team-mate Darrell Goulding.
The champions had by far the better of the first half, with centre Kallum Watkins breaching the Wigan line early on only to put out a poor final pass while second rower Carl Ablett had a try disallowed for a double movement.
A 40-20 kick from Warriors stand-off Blake Green set up the position for centre Iain Thornley to cross but the try was disallowed for a forward pass.
Wigan were forced into some desperate defence as Leeds forced three goal-line drop-outs and looked to be getting on top when the opening try came against the run of play.
Leeds winger Ben Jones-Bishop picked off Green's pass meant for Pat Richards five metres from his own line and held off the chase of Sam Tomkins to cross at the corner.
Kevin Sinfield failed with the difficult conversion, his first miss in 35 attempts, and Wigan ought to have drawn level when Thornley came up with a clean break but he hung onto the ball with two men in support and was brought down just short of the line.
The pivotal moment of the first half came three minutes before the break when Sam Tomkins not only brought down Leeds winger Ryan Hall within sight of the line but stole the ball in a one-on-one tackle.
Green then broke free from inside his own half to get Richards over at the corner for an equalising try and the winger's goal edged the Warriors into a fortuitous 6-4 interval lead.
The Rhinos quickly put that setback behind them, though, as they went on to dominate the second half.
They regained the lead within two minutes when, after running the ball on the last tackle, the impressive Ablett took a return pass from centre Joel Moon to go over for their second try.
The ever-dangerous Moon then took a return pass from Hall to squeeze over at the corner on the hour and Sinfield kicked both conversions to make it 16-6 and five minutes later Watkins put the issue beyond doubt when he touched down his own grubber kick.
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First Utility Super League Table
|5||Hull K R||0||0|
|7||Salford Red Devils||0||0|
|First Utility Super League|
|Thursday 5th February|
|20:00||Widnes vs Wigan|
|Friday 6th February|
|20:00||St Helens vs Catalans Dragons|
|Saturday 7th February|
|15:00||Warrington vs Salford|
|Sunday 8th February|
|15:00||Huddersfield vs Hull|
|15:00||Hull K R vs Leeds|
|15:30||Castleford vs Wakefield|
|Thursday 12th February|
|20:00||Salford vs St Helens|
|Friday 13th February|
|20:00||Hull vs Warrington|
|20:00||Leeds vs Widnes|
|20:00||Wigan vs Huddersfield|
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