Leeds produce wet-weather rugby masterclass to reach Challenge Cup final

Leeds produced a masterclass in wet-weather rugby to clinch their 26th Challenge Cup final appearance with a 26-12 victory over Wigan in their sodden semi-final at St Helens.

Wigan, who went into the game as favourites, were thwarted by a combination of Storm Alex, which delivered a deluge onto the Totally Wicked Stadium surface, and the precision of their opponents’ kicking game.

The Rhinos scored all but six of their points before half-time through tries from second-row forward Rhyse Martin and wingers Ash Handley and Tom Briscoe, while the former kicked four goals.

Handley scored his second after the break as Leeds, who will take on Salford or Warrington at Wembley on October 17, led 26-0 before Wigan grabbed consolation tries through Harry Smith and Zak Hardaker.

Wigan suffered a pre-match blow when England centre Oliver Gildart was left out as a precaution after showing signs of Covid-19 but, as expected, they brought back skipper Sean O’Loughlin for his second appearance since February.

Yet the veteran loose forward had an unhappy afternoon as Wigan floundered in the rain.

His fumble early in the game cost Wigan crucial field position from their first and only decent attacking position of the first half and he was was taken off after 22 minutes, shortly after being pulled up for a high tackle.

The warning signs for Wigan were there from the moment Leeds prop Mikolaj Oledzki looked to be tackled well short of their line but slid it over on the greasy turf and would have scored a try had he been able to ground the ball.

While the Warriors struggled to get out of their own half, Leeds simply revelled in the conditions.

Martin opened the scoring with the first of two penalties and wrong-footed O’Loughlin to score the first try after taking an inside pass from stand-off Robert Lui.

Scrum-half Luke Gale helped maintain the pressure with a 40-20 kick and delivered the punt from which centre Liam Sutcliffe got Handley over for his side’s second try after 31 minutes.

As the Rhinos continued to press, Sutcliffe was denied by the finger touch of Thomas Leuluai as he chased Martin’s grubber kick but the pressure told two minutes from half-time when centre Konrad Hurrell put Briscoe through a gap for their third try.

Wet conditions meant the ball was hard to keep hold of
Wet conditions meant the ball was hard to keep hold of

Trailing 20-0, any hope of a Wigan comeback was snuffed out nine minutes into the second half when video referee Ben Thaler disallowed a try to winger Dom Manfredi after spotting a knock-on in the build-up.

Hurrell also had a try disallowed for an offside but Leeds continued to make all the running and Sutcliffe offloaded from the tackle to get Handley over for his second try, shortly after the winger had one disallowed for being held up over the line.

Martin could not convert from the touchline but he put over a third penalty after 72 minutes to make it 26-0.

With O’Loughlin back on the field for the last 15 minutes, Wigan gradually managed to find some rhythm and they finished with a flourish with two tries in four minutes.

Substitute half-back Smith raced 80 metres for an opportunist score after pouncing on a loose ball while Manfredi broke clear to create one for Hardaker, who kicked both conversions.