Wigan 34 Leeds 0
Doubles from George Williams and Oliver Gildart helped Wigan wrap-up the regular season with a confidence-boosting win over Leeds.
With Hull FC defeating Huddersfield, the win also moved Warriors up to seventh place on the league table, and helped them chip away at the gap between themselves and the play-off places.
Leeds brought a depleted squad over the Pennines with an injury list including England winger Ryan Hall with concussion.
Kallum Watkins, Stevie Ward, Adam Cuthbertson, Brett Ferres, Danny McGuire, Rob Burrow, Liam Sutcliffe and Keith Galloway were also on the sidelines, and with a Leeds’ top four place looking fairly safe, next weekend’s Challenge Cup semi-final against Hull FC probably took precedence over this game.
It certainly looked that way across town at Leigh Sports Village as third-placed Salford failed to get back on track (they have now lost six of their last seven) against the lowly Leigh Centurions but Wigan had no such luxury.
The talking point from Shaun Wane’s team sheet was the inclusion of wing Tom Davies, Liam Marshall having been dropped after last week’s defeat to Warrington.
Points at the moment are vital for Wigan to mount any sort of challenge for the top four, and even with Leeds’ depleted squad, some fans would have been in an ‘any win will do’ mindset.
Alex Sutcliffe, Harry Newman and Harvey Whiteley were making their Leeds debuts, making their third youngster team in the Super League era according to the club’s Twitter feed.
That didn’t stop Leeds making the earliest possible statement of intent when Mitch Garbutt floored Willie Isa on the very first tackle, but the match soon settled and took a while to warm-up.
Wigan sparked into life after an error-strewn start from both sides which probably wasn’t helped with by persistent drizzle.
But they took control once Michael McIlorum opened their account after 11 minutes.
A kick into the in-goal by Williams produced a drop-out from which Warriors were able to wriggle into position.
And the hooker dummied to send Jamie Jones Buchanan the wrong way before sliding over from close range, despite the attentions of Anthony Mullally. The easy conversion was no problem for Williams.
Before Leeds had chance to get the ball back, the champions were over again two minutes later.
Piggybacked upfield by a penalty, Sam Tomkins profited from chasing his own kick following a flamboyant sideways run which saw him evade the clutches of a handful of Rhinos defenders.
They continued to apply pressure but were unable to finish off chances which would have seen them out of sight by the break.
With a quarter of the game gone, McIlorum burst through again and fired a short pass to Frank-Paul Nuuausala which the Kiwi was unable to take with a clear path to the line.
Isa was also unable to get his name on the scoresheet, twice denied by video referee James Child in the space of a minute.
Isa’s first effort was chalked off for him being held-up before he went over again later in the set.
This time obstruction came into play, but the setback didn’t derail the Warriors who managed to break through again before the break when Williams wrestled his way over.
The efforts of debutante Sutcliffe, Ashton Golding and Jones Buchanan ensured there was enough doubt in referee Ben Thaler’s mind to call upon the services of Child again. This time though the try was given the green light. Williams’ attempt to convert his own try hit the post but Warriors had now ensured Leeds would have to score three times to hit the front.
They nearly got off the mark when Jack Walker darted for the line with nine minutes to go until the break but he knocked-on.
Wigan put themselves out of sight 10 minutes after the restart when Gildart grabbed the first of his quick double.
Williams put Wigan in position with a strong run before Gildart spun past the flailing arms of Leeds players to go over the line.
And five minutes later Williams was again the provider, this time breaking from long range and feeding his centre with a neat pass to score under the posts.
Wigan’s authority on the match was never in doubt, even if well-polished finishing was occasionally in absence.
But the main area under scrutiny of late - defence - was much more solid.
Leeds only ventured into their opponents’ half on one noteworthy occasion in the second 40, with Garbutt going close before being wrapped up.
That threat came to an end when Jordan Lilley’s kick harmlessly floated over the dead ball line, and Warriors soon resumed normal service.
With 10 minutes to go before the hooter Davies scored his 10th try of the season in a move which did have the hallmarks of vintage Wigan.
The 20-year-old found himself on the end of a slick passing move which included a nifty flick pass from Tomkins, but he still should have credit for the work he had to do to ground the ball for his side’s 100th Super League try of 2017.
Four minutes later Williams registered his second, this time from a Gildart break which saw the stand-off race past two defenders. Sam Powell took over the kicking duties to wrap-up the scoring.
Wigan Warriors: Sam Tomkins; Tom Davies, Anthony Gelling, Oliver Gildarts, Joe Burgess; George Williams, Tommy Leuluai; Frank-Paul Nuuausala, Michael McIlorum, Ryan Sutton, Willie Isa, John Bateman; Sean O’Loughlin
Subs: Tony Clubb, Sam Powell, Taulima Tautai, Jack Wells
Leeds Rhinos: Jack Walker; Tom Briscoe, Jimmy Keinhorst, Alex Sutcliffe, Harry Newman; Ashton Golding, Jordan Lilley; Mitch Garbutt, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Jordan Baldwinson, Jack Ormondroyd, Carl Ablett; Anthony Mullally
Subs: Mikolaj Oledzki, Josh Jordan Roberts, Cameron Smith, Harvey Whiteley