WINGER Josh Charnley scored a hat-trick of tries as Wigan bounced back from their shock opening home defeat by Huddersfield with a clinical 20-6 destruction of Stobart Super League champions Leeds.
It was the Rhinos’ first defeat since they lost to the Warriors in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley last August and a setback ahead of next Friday’s World Club Challenge against Manly Sea Eagles.
Leeds had all but three members of their Cup final team in action, compared to just 11 from Wigan, but they struggled to find much cohesion against determined opponents clearly stung by last week’s defeat.
The champions were without Kallum Watkins, hat-trick hero of their opening win over Hull KR, who picked up a wrist injury in training and, with Lee Smith going off with a rib injury midway through the first half, they were forced to use two back row forwards in the threequarters for most of the match.
Wigan, too, had to deal with adversity, with coach Shaun Wane giving a first start to 20-year-old centre Jack Hughes and a debut to 21-year-old prop Tom Spencer in the absence of George Carmont and Liam Farrell.
It was a full-blooded affair, with Leeds loose forward Weller Hauraki coming to blows at one stage with Wigan’s impressive hooker Michael McIlorum and referee Thiery Alibert struggling to keep tempers in check.
Charnley had an early try disallowed by video referee Richard Silverwood for obstruction but had two legitimate scores by half-time to put his side firmly in control.
Quick hands by Thomas Leuluai, Sam Tomkins and Darrell Goulding created an overlap on 15 minutes while Tomkins sliced through the Leeds defence on 26 minutes to send the winger over for his second.
Pat Richards added both conversions to make it 12-0 at the break and extended the lead with a penalty nine minutes into the second half awarded for a high tackle on Chris Tuson.
Leeds ought to have made more of clean breaks out of defence by second rower Jamie Jones-Buchanan and winger Ryan Hall but they were generally second best in most areas of the game.
They struggled to break down a well-organised defence and came up with handling errors at crucial times but finally got on the scoreboard after 54 minutes.
Full-back Brent Webb was hauled down just short of the line after taking a defence-splitting pass from Kevin Sinfield but there was no stopping prop Darrell Griffin’s charge from five metres out on the next tackle.
Sinfield’s goal cut the deficit to eight points but Wigan never looked like relinquishing their lead and they made sure of the win when skipper Sean O’Loughlin combined superbly with half-backs Brett Finch and Leuluai to get Charnley over for his third try on 66 minutes.
A touchline conversion enabled Richards to take his goal tally to four from as many attempts.