Legends bow out with a bang

Leeds Rhinos secured the domestic treble with a dramatic 22-20 win over Wigan Warriors a Old Trafford. It proved the perfect send-off for stalwarts Kevin Sinfield, Jamie Peacock and Kylie Leuluai, although the title could scarcely have been secured in more dramatic fashion.

Following their crushing 50-0 win over Hull KR to secure the Challenge Cup and a last-gasp Rob Hall try to win the League Leaders’ Shield at the death against Huddersfield Giants, history beckoned. However, the Warriors would be a tough adversary. Although the Rhinos got the better of them 26-14 at Headingley, the Greater Manchester outfit got their revenge, winning a closely-fought encounter 26-24. This was to be a similarly nailbiting affair, although it didn’t look like that was going to be the case in the first half.

Leeds went behind after strong running and neat passing between Matty Smith, Liam Farrell and Joe Burgess, who crossed over in only the fourth minute of the match. Undeterred, the favourites fought back, with Rob Burrow at dummy-half feeding Kevin Sinfield, whose cute kick through was latched onto by Danny McGuire, to the delight of the hordes of Rhinos fans all around the ground. With the score at 6-6, the match was turning into a thrilling spectacle. 27 minutes in, and Leeds nudged themselves in front, due to some quick-wittedness from fullback Zak Hardaker.

The Rhinos looked as though they were about to fashion some space, but Kallum Watkins’ pass did not make its intended target. However, Super League Man of Steel Hardaker gathered up the loose ball, and swivelled round the Wigan defender on the outside. He managed to offload the ball to Joel Moon, who went through to score. The television match official was required, as Wigan players felt that Danny McGuire’s pass in the build-up was a knock-on. However, the try stood, and Leeds now had a 10-6 lead.

Eight minutes later and it was 16-6. Watkins’ showcased his speed down the wing, leaving several Wigan players in his wake before feeding the ball inside to the onrushing McGuire, who triumphantly slid over.

As the players trooped in for half-time, there is no doubt which team would have been the happier in the second half. Wigan weren’t prepared to lie down however, and soon after the restart. Captain Sean O’Loughlin sent a looping ball to John Bateman, who was brought down just a few metres short by Tom Briscoe. Wigan were on the last set and needed to deliver. Fortunately, O’Loughlin did, lofting his kick over the Leeds backline. Rob Hall looked like he had caught it, but it was nipped away from him and grounded by Dom Manfredi. The try was then converted, reducing the gap to just four points.

Wigan had the wind in their sails, and just three minutes later, Wigan went in front courtesy of Matty Bowen. Sam Powell initially spread the play, before Smith played a reverse ball inside to Bowen. From that point onwards it was all about the Australian, as he danced past three challenges, before shimmying past two more. McGuire was right on top of him, but Bowen managed to go over to jubilant celebrations from his team-mates. In his final appearance, it was fitting that he should come up with a moment of magic.

It was still anyone’s game, but another penalty from Bowen saw the Warriors edge 20-16 in front in the 62nd minute. They looked set to make for last year’s Grand Final defeat at the hands of St. Helen’s, but the Rhinos had either ideas. A searching kick a few minutes later from McGuire saw Hall outjump Manfredi, and quick balls from Moon and Jimmy Keinhorst released 20-year-old Leeds Beckett student Josh Walters, who crashed over to the delight of the Loiners’ fans. Sinfield successfully converted to put Leeds 22-20

The Cherry and Whites were not about to give up the ghost just yet though, and went in search of a winning score. However, the Rhinos remained resolute, and Wigan were out on their feet and unable to fashion an opening, as a kick from Smith found its way into Hall’s hands, and as he grounded the final whistle sounded.

On a day when three club greats hung up their boots, it was apt that the Grand Final lived up to the league’s slogan for this season: ‘Every Minute Matters’.

Alex Bowmer

Featured image: ITV

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