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Rhinos rescue semi-final spot
Richards misses late penalty as champions reach semis
Defending champions Leeds fought back from 14-0 down to claim a memorable win over table-toppers Wigan in a searing Super League play-off at the DW Stadium.
The League leaders made a dream start with two tries within five minutes but the Rhinos stormed back to complete a 27-26 triumph thanks to Kevin Sinfield's drop-goal.
In an enthralling contest, Sam Tomkins put the Warriors in a commanding position with an early double, but Rhinos stand-off Danny McGuire - Tomkins' competition for the England number six jersey in the upcoming Four Nations Serie - led the fightback by the Yorkshiremen.
The match was nip and tuck all the way until Sinfield grabbed the vital point, but Wigan missed their chance to move within 80 minutes of the Grand Final as Pat Richards squandered a last-ditch penalty.
Leeds' victory secures their safe passage through to the last four in a fortnight's time with the right to choose their semi-final opponents, while Wigan will face a sudden-death tie against Hull KR next weekend.
Tonight's result also means that St Helens will have the right to choose their semi-final opponents and sends Huddersfield to Warrington in next Saturday's other elimination semi-final.
There was a little hint of the drama when Wigan raced into a 12-0 lead with two tries in the first five minutes from Sam Tomkins.
Leeds, looking to stay on course for a fourth successive title, were caught cold when Wigan centre Martin Gleeson acrobatically palmed back a high kick from Paul Deacon for the opportunistic Tomkins to grab his first touchdown with just two minutes on the clock.
The Rhinos did not have time to recover from the shock, with skipper Sinfield kicking out on the full from the re-start to give the Warriors another perfect attacking position, and that man Tomkins made them pay with his second try, using his electifying footwork to ghost between two defenders and touch down.
Richards improved both tries and kicked a 17th-minute penalty to make it 14-0 but the Warriors suffered a blow when stand-off Deacon went off after 10 minutes with a groin injury and they quickly lost both their shape and the momentum.
Leeds substitute Greg Eastwood sparked the Rhinos fightback on 22 minutes when he offloaded from a two-man tackle to get hooker Danny Buderus over for their first try.
Buderus was inches away from grabbing a second following a break by McGuire before the latter's long pass found winger Ryan Hall with plenty of space to touch down after his opposite number Richards had shot out of the defensive line.
Sinfield added both conversions to cut the deficit to just two points and the excitement continued at both ends.
Richards was heading for the corner following a break by Wigan second-rower Liam Farrell until McGuire came up with a crucial shoulder charge, while the Warriors defence was forced to work overtime to halt a superb weaving run from Leeds scrum-half Rob Burrow.
Leeds had Buderus placed on report for a dangerous tackle and the action-packed half ended on a controversial note when Wigan second-rower Joel Tomkins was fortunate to avoid a sin-binning for kicking out at McGuire, although Sinfield made him pay with a penalty that levelled the scores.
There was no let-up in the intensity in the second half as Leeds picked up from where they left off at the break.
When Sinfield produced a delicate offload on halfway, full-back Brent Webb sped away and the supporting McGuire finished off with a glorious try that put his side in front for the first time.
But it was all square again five minutes later when impressive forward Harrison Hansen made the running for Liam Farrell to jink his way over for Wigan's third try.
The match swung the visitors' way again on 62 minutes when half-backs Burrow and McGuire combined to get left winger Scott Donald over at the corner and Sinfield's touchline conversion made it 26-20.
But there was no keeping Sam Tomkins out of the action and his cut-out pass got Richards over at the corner for his 30th try of the season and Wigan's fifth of the night.
Richards was wide with the conversion attempt - the first miss of the night - and was then off target with a penalty.
He finally drew the scores level with a successful penalty seven minutes from the end to raise the possibility of extra time but Sinfield had the final say when he slotted over a drop goal from in front of the posts and Richards' late attempt dropped short.
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Super League Table
|9||Hull K R||27||23|
|10||Salford Red Devils||27||23|
|13||Bradford Bulls *||27||10|
|Friday 26th September|
|Huddersfield 16 - 18 Catalan Dragons|
|Thursday 25th September|
|Castleford 14 - 30 Warrington|
|Saturday 20th September|
|Leeds 20 - 24 Catalan Dragons|
|Warrington 22 - 19 Widnes|
|Friday 19th September|
|St Helens 41 - 0 Castleford|
|Thursday 18th September|
|Wigan 57 - 4 Huddersfield|
|Sunday 14th September|
|Wakefield 18 - 42 Hull K R|
|Saturday 13th September|
|Catalan Dragons 28 - 6 Castleford|
|London Broncos 36 - 46 Bradford|
|Friday 12th September|
|Salford 36 - 6 Widnes|
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