Goulding hails his academy champions
Darrell Goulding's Under-19s battled from behind to claim their ninth senior academy Championship triumph in the last 11 years.
They trailed 6-4 at half-time of their Grand Final but nudged in front through James Worthington’s effort.
And in a tense finish, centre Sam Halsall had the pace, poise and strength to sweep over for a converted try which ultimately settled a physical decider.
Goulding said: “I’m proud of the guys. It was a bit of a scrappy win but the win was what mattered.”
He was particularly pleased the victory sent departing head of youth Matty Peet away on a high-note.
The game was staged as a curtain-raiser to Wigan’s Super-8s clash with Hull FC. They met two weeks ago, with the Warriors running out 24-0 at St Judes amateur club.
But Goulding felt that scoreline didn’t reflect the attacking potency of the Yorkshire heavyweights and had predicted a tight affair.
By half-time, that forecast proved prophetic, with each side scoring a try as Leeds took a 6-4 lead.
The visitors had first-team prop Mikolaj Oledzki in their ranks, while Worthington and Samy Kibula had tasted senior experience for the hosts.
Wigan made a dream start when winger Sam Grant - a touch rugby international - latched onto James Barran’s stabbed kick. Harry Smith, the U19s player of the season, missed the conversion.
Both sides got into the grind of the contest, testing each other down the middle and Leeds slowly beginning to dominate. Oledzki was held up over the line and Muizz Mustapha wreaked havoc with some pinballing darts. For Wigan, Liam Byrne and particularly Morgan Smithies led the forward charge, but halfback Smith made two errors which kept Wigan under pressure and that eventually told, with Alex Sutcliffe crashing on to a short ball. Harvey Spence slotted over the simple conversion.
Penalties leaked into both displays and, just before the break, Smith elected to kick at goal from inside his own half - only for his long-range effort to miss the mark.
Wigan slowly began to dominate from the restart. Smith turned down a chance to shoot for goal and his decision paid off - a crisp left-to-right shift ended with Worthington squeezing over in the corner. Smith was again off-target, but he made no mistake when Halsall went over in the 71st minute.
Wigan: Joe Brown; James Worthington, Sam Halsall, Sam Grant, Cian Tyrer; James Barran, Harry Smith; Liam Byrne, Aiden Roden, Ethan Havard, James McDonnell, Joe Shorrocks, Morgan Smithies. Subs: Caine Barnes, Samy Kibula, Ben Kilner, Dec O’Donnell.
Leeds: Liam Whitton; Ben Markland, Jack Broadbent, Harry Newman, Kiedan Hartley; Harvey Spence, Reece Chapman-Smith; Mikolay Oledski, Corey Johnson, Spencer Darley, Alex Sutcliffe, Owen Trout, Loui McConnell. Subs: Harvey Whitley, Muizz Mustapha, Tom Holroyd, Tyler Dupree.
Referee: Cameron Worsley
Starman: Morgan Smithies