Challenge Cup: Leeds Rhinos dominate Wigan Warriors to book Wembley final spot
By Marc Bazeley
Last Updated: 03/10/20 5:23pm
A dominant first-half display helped Leeds Rhinos become the first team through to the Challenge Cup final as they overcame Wigan Warriors 26-12 at a rain-soaked Totally Wicked Stadium.
Rhyse Martin helped the Rhinos into a 20-0 lead at half-time with a converted try and two penalties, with winger Ash Handley and Tom Briscoe both crossing the whitewash before the break as well.
Handley's second and another Martin penalty in the second half put the seal on the win for the Rhinos as they booked their place at Wembley for the first time since lifting the trophy in 2015.
Both teams came into the match with their big guns restored to the line-ups, having rested players for their midweek Super League games in preparation for this encounter.
It was the Rhinos who adapted to the wet conditions perfectly, with some smart kicking from Luke Gale helping keep Wigan pinned in their own half during the early stages and allowing his side to build pressure.
Second row Martin put Leeds ahead with a well-struck penalty from 40 metres out with 14 minutes gone and then went over four minutes later on the back of the Rhinos forcing a goal-line drop-out, taking an inside pass from Robert Lui and going through the gap the stand-off had created.
The Papua New Guinea international converted his own score and was on hand to kick another penalty from just over 20 metres out in the 23rd minute.
Gale's in-play kicking led to Leeds' second try 11 minutes later, putting in a right-to-left kick with the inside of his boot which Liam Sutcliffe rose above the Warriors' defence to knock down for Richie Myler, who in turn fed Handley to finish from close range followed by Martin adding the extras.
The Rhinos were in again on the stroke of half-time after earning another drop-out, with Konrad Hurrell sending Briscoe over wide on the right for an unconverted score.
Wigan started to claw their way back into the match when play resumed and had a possible try by Dom Manfredi ruled out after Tommy Leuluai was ruled to have knocked on in the build-up by the video referee.
Hurrell was denied by the video ref too when Gale was found to be offside from a kick and that led to back-to-back penalties, yet once again the Warriors were unable to take advantage as Joe Greenwood was held up over the line and Joe Shorrocks knocked on soon after.
At the other end, Wigan's defence scrambled to stop Handley from dotting down again, but the 24-year-old managed to get his second 12 minutes from time when he took an offload from Sutcliffe and crashed over.
Martin's 72nd-minute penalty put the seal on the win and although Wigan rallied late on, converted consolation tries from Harry Smith and Zak Hardaker provided little comfort for the Warriors as they bowed out of the competition they have won a record 19 times.
Luke Gale was named man of the match and it came on the back of some superb in-play kicking which ensured opponents Wigan were under the pump from the opening minutes.
That was underlined by the 40-20 he kicked which put the Rhinos in the perfect position to take advantage for the first try of the match, as well as his touch-finders which helped his side control the pace of the game.
What also deserves credit though is the kick-chase and the work the Rhinos did in defence to keep the Warriors pinned deep in their own territory for much of the match.
And when it came to it, Richard Agar's men were able to move the ball around quickly despite the wet conditions which allowed them to make inroads when in possession.
Wigan just could not get anything going and found themselves on the back foot from early on in the contest, having to spend most of their time in possession trying to play out from close to their own line.
Perhaps the most telling statistic which underlined that was from the first half when the Warriors had no play-the-balls in Leeds' 20-metre zone, while their opponents managed 22 at the other end.
And even when they did enjoy more possession in the Rhinos' half after the break they could not make the most of it until the two tries in the dying minutes, by which time the tie was over anyway.
It was a far cry from what we have seen from Wigan in Super League for much of this year and head coach Adrian Lam was at a loss in his post-match press conference to put his finger why his men struggled so much.