TWO tries by Liam Farrell and a late, frantic fightback weren’t enough as Wigan fell to their second defeat at Headingley this year.
The defeat saw pace-setters Leeds wedge a four-point gap between themselves and Shaun Wane’s outfit.
If this black cloud had a silver-lining, it was Warriors held onto second spot in the Super League ladder after St Helens’ surprise home defeat against Hull FC.
But the mood was very-much one of disappointment, and Wigan’s players will curse themselves for failing to bring their A-game to the big stage.
A major flashpoint just before half-time, when Ryan Hall was awarded a try despite suggestions Kevin Sinfield knocked on in the build-up.
The skipper’s conversion blew the scoreline out from 14-4 to 20-4, giving Wigan a mountain to climb in the second-half.
And while tries by Farrell, John Bateman and Dom Manfredi offered them hope, they never did enough to deserve the victory.
The match wasn’t the highest-quality - not by the yardstick of past encounters - and a string of stoppages served to dilute the excitement levels further.
Former Wigan star Thomas Leuluai watched on from the stands - he is in the country for a month to visit family, and will spend time at Warriors rehabing the injury which ended his NRL campaign.
Both sides headed into the contest having won their last four games, but there was no doubting Wigan were the underdog - a point not lost on Wane, who said they were “motivated” by the gushing praise their hosts had been attracting.
Wigan fell behind as early as the third minute. Josh Charnley did well to rush in and halt Ryan Hall, but Danny McGuire scooped up the loose ball and - after a lengthy deliberation by the video referees - the try was awarded. Sinfield made no mistake with the conversion.
Wigan were quick to respond. They favoured kicking along the ground, and the ploy paid off when Tom Briscoe failed to clean up George Williams’ stab-through, and Farrell pounced on the loose ball. The try was awarded after the officials ruled out a shove in the build-up.
The visitors had several further chances in the rest of the half but their effort down the middle was never matched by their execution on their opponents’ line.
Joel Moon soared on to McGuire’s short kick to extend Leeds’ lead - though replays suggested Sinfield had knocked on in the build-up - and the skipper’s conversion, and penalty minutes later, put them 14-4 ahead.
Play was held up for several minutes as Mitch Achurch received treatment after an accidental head knock while tackling Bateman.
When the game resumed, Wigan pressed for a try which would cut the gap leading into the break. But instead, they fell further behind - albeit in controversial fashion.
As Leeds kept the ball alive, Sinfield spilled the ball before regathering, and punted the ball through for Ryan Hall to ground. The decision went upstairs once again, and many Wigan fans - and neutrals in the Press Box - were staggered the try was awarded, with the officials clearly happy the ball had gone backwards.
Wigan looked tentative early in the second-half, but improved. The simmering tempers threatened to boil over as, first, Joel Tomkins and Adam Cuthberton tangled, and then Bateman was penalised for an off-the-ball clash with Stevie Ward.
With the ball, stand-off George Williams tried to spark their attack into life. And when Anthony Gelling ripped possession from Kallum Watkins, it presented the opportunity for Farrell to muscle over.
Smith was again off-target with the conversion, keeping the score 20-8 as the game entered the final quarter. But any prospects of a grandstand finish crumbled when Watkins showed his acclaimed attacking qualities to slice through Wigan’s tiring defence, and reinstate a 16-point lead.
Hardaker added salt into their fresh wounds by striking a one-pointer. Bateman’s determined try - converted by Matty Bowen - helped Wigan reclaim some pride, and typified the way they battled until the end.
With two minutes to go, and trailing by 11 points, Dom Manfredi raced onto Bateman’s angled kick and grounded, but with Bowen missing the sideline conversion, it only served to give the final scoreline more respectability.
Leeds: Hardaker; Briscoe, Watkins, Moon, Hall; Sinfield, McGuire; Garbutt, Cuthbertson, Peacock, Ward, Ablett, Singleton. Subs: Burrow, Leuluai, Achurch, Keinhorst.
Wigan: Bowen; Charnley, Gelling, Bateman, Manfredi; Williams, Smith; Flower, McIlorum, Clubb, Tomkins, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Subs: Powell, Mossop, Patrick, Sutton.
Referee: Richard Silverwood
Starman: George Williams