Rhinos rescue semi-final spot
Richards misses late penalty as champions reach semis
By Elliot Ball. Last Updated: 12/09/10 10:31pm
Sinfield: Drop-goal hero
Defending champions Leeds fought back from 14-0 down to claim a memorable win over table-toppers Wigan in a searing Super League play-off at the DW Stadium.
The League leaders made a dream start with two tries within five minutes but the Rhinos stormed back to complete a 27-26 triumph thanks to Kevin Sinfield's drop-goal.
In an enthralling contest, Sam Tomkins put the Warriors in a commanding position with an early double, but Rhinos stand-off Danny McGuire - Tomkins' competition for the England number six jersey in the upcoming Four Nations Serie - led the fightback by the Yorkshiremen.
The match was nip and tuck all the way until Sinfield grabbed the vital point, but Wigan missed their chance to move within 80 minutes of the Grand Final as Pat Richards squandered a last-ditch penalty.
Leeds' victory secures their safe passage through to the last four in a fortnight's time with the right to choose their semi-final opponents, while Wigan will face a sudden-death tie against Hull KR next weekend.
Tonight's result also means that St Helens will have the right to choose their semi-final opponents and sends Huddersfield to Warrington in next Saturday's other elimination semi-final.
There was a little hint of the drama when Wigan raced into a 12-0 lead with two tries in the first five minutes from Sam Tomkins.
Leeds, looking to stay on course for a fourth successive title, were caught cold when Wigan centre Martin Gleeson acrobatically palmed back a high kick from Paul Deacon for the opportunistic Tomkins to grab his first touchdown with just two minutes on the clock.
The Rhinos did not have time to recover from the shock, with skipper Sinfield kicking out on the full from the re-start to give the Warriors another perfect attacking position, and that man Tomkins made them pay with his second try, using his electifying footwork to ghost between two defenders and touch down.
Richards improved both tries and kicked a 17th-minute penalty to make it 14-0 but the Warriors suffered a blow when stand-off Deacon went off after 10 minutes with a groin injury and they quickly lost both their shape and the momentum.
Leeds substitute Greg Eastwood sparked the Rhinos fightback on 22 minutes when he offloaded from a two-man tackle to get hooker Danny Buderus over for their first try.
Buderus was inches away from grabbing a second following a break by McGuire before the latter's long pass found winger Ryan Hall with plenty of space to touch down after his opposite number Richards had shot out of the defensive line.
Sinfield added both conversions to cut the deficit to just two points and the excitement continued at both ends.
Richards was heading for the corner following a break by Wigan second-rower Liam Farrell until McGuire came up with a crucial shoulder charge, while the Warriors defence was forced to work overtime to halt a superb weaving run from Leeds scrum-half Rob Burrow.
Leeds had Buderus placed on report for a dangerous tackle and the action-packed half ended on a controversial note when Wigan second-rower Joel Tomkins was fortunate to avoid a sin-binning for kicking out at McGuire, although Sinfield made him pay with a penalty that levelled the scores.
There was no let-up in the intensity in the second half as Leeds picked up from where they left off at the break.
When Sinfield produced a delicate offload on halfway, full-back Brent Webb sped away and the supporting McGuire finished off with a glorious try that put his side in front for the first time.
But it was all square again five minutes later when impressive forward Harrison Hansen made the running for Liam Farrell to jink his way over for Wigan's third try.
The match swung the visitors' way again on 62 minutes when half-backs Burrow and McGuire combined to get left winger Scott Donald over at the corner and Sinfield's touchline conversion made it 26-20.
But there was no keeping Sam Tomkins out of the action and his cut-out pass got Richards over at the corner for his 30th try of the season and Wigan's fifth of the night.
Richards was wide with the conversion attempt - the first miss of the night - and was then off target with a penalty.
He finally drew the scores level with a successful penalty seven minutes from the end to raise the possibility of extra time but Sinfield had the final say when he slotted over a drop goal from in front of the posts and Richards' late attempt dropped short.
First Utility Super League
Tue 30th Jun
Hull K R34 - 28Salford Red Devils
Wed 1st Jul
Wakefield Wildcats26 - 16Hull FC
Thu 2nd Jul
Warrington Wolves17 - 6Wigan Warriors
Fri 3rd Jul
Leeds Rhinos46 - 18St Helens
Sun 5th Jul
Huddersfield Giants0 - 0Hull K R
Hull FC0 - 0Wakefield Wildcats
Salford Red Devils0 - 0Catalans Dragons
Castleford Tigers0 - 0Widnes Vikings
Thu 9th Jul
Wigan WarriorsvsLeeds Rhinos
Fri 10th Jul
St HelensvsHuddersfield Giants
Sun 12th Jul
Hull FC0 - 0Castleford Tigers
Salford Red Devils0 - 0Hull K R
Wakefield Wildcats0 - 0Warrington Wolves
Widnes Vikings0 - 0Catalans Dragons
Thu 16th Jul
Warrington WolvesvsSt Helens
Fri 17th Jul
Hull K RvsHull FC
Leeds Rhinos0 - 0Salford Red Devils
Wigan Warriors0 - 0Widnes Vikings
Sat 18th Jul
Catalans DragonsvsHuddersfield Giants
Sun 19th Jul
Wakefield Wildcats0 - 0Castleford Tigers
Thu 23rd Jul
Hull FCvsWigan Warriors
Fri 24th Jul
St Helens0 - 0Hull K R
Sun 26th Jul
Huddersfield Giants0 - 0Wakefield Wildcats
Leeds Rhinos0 - 0Catalans Dragons
Widnes Vikings0 - 0Salford Red Devils
Castleford Tigers0 - 0Warrington Wolves