Leeds manager Rohan Smith has always had faith in his players as they have produced a remarkable display of grit and determination in sentencing Wigan to 12 men in their first home defeat of the season and reaching the eleventh Super League final.
The Rhinos were under the influence of most of the first half of Friday’s semi-final at DW Stadium, but managed to limit their opponents to a 4-2 lead at half-time before finding the attacking pace in the second half.
Impromptu hooker Jarrod O’Connor scored his first try for the club four minutes into the second half and former St Helens second row James Bentley added two more to help Leeds secure a stunning win for 20-8 which will take him to Old Trafford next Saturday.
“I wasn’t worried at all,” Smith said of his team’s stoic rearguard efforts in the first half. “Its part of the game.
“I feel there is confidence in the group that we could find our way through it.
“Our defense of the goal line has been very good for a period of time now, there is a lot of confidence and conviction. Everyone was calm and relaxed and did their job.
“Everyone felt good about themselves going 4-2”.
The only disappointment for Leeds was an injury to scrum-half Aidan Sezer, who was removed for a head injury assessment after being struck by a late high tackle from England’s Wigan striker John Bateman and risks to skip the Grand Final.
“We haven’t talked to the doctor yet,” Smith said. “I’m trying to enjoy it for a few minutes. We will talk about Aidan on the way home. “
A first trip to Old Trafford for five years marks a notable turning point in the fortunes of the Rhinos, who were second from the back of the Super League in April after winning only one of their first 10 games.
Smith added: “I came not knowing much, but I knew enough to know that there was a good group of players and a good group of people.
“I am really proud and privileged to be a part of it. Now the dust is settling, we are starting to think a little about next week “.
Smith has confirmed that center Harry Newman will not be able to play in the Grand Final while three-quarter mates Ash Handley and David Fusitu’a remain doubtful about the injury.
Bateman was shown a red card for his tackle on Sezer and will now face an anxious wait to find out if he will jeopardize his World Cup place, with the Rugby Football League match review panel ready to give. a close look at the incident on Monday.
“I have no complaints,” said Wigan manager Matt Peet. “We understand the rules.
“John had all the best of intentions, it was a split second mistake. I hope Aidan is well.
“It would be sad if he gets disqualified, but I guess they have to keep what they have been doing all season. It would be a shame if the World Cup matches were lost. “
Wigan’s misery was compounded by the loss of Bevan French phenomenon to a foot injury early in the second half and they remained 20-4 behind before hooker Sam Powell scored his 250th appearance for them with a goal of consolation in the final.
“I am sad for the group, but I remain very proud of the group,” said Peet, who led Wigan to victory in the Challenge Cup final in his first season as head coach. “It has been a special year.
“Leeds deserve huge credit for the way they played, particularly the way they defended the goal line. They showed great resilience, which is a sign of mutual commitment ”.
The defeat put a disappointing end to the brilliant career of Wigan captain Thomas Leuluai, who made his 327th appearance in place of the injured Cade Cust.
Peet said: “His career speaks for itself, it has been a fairy tale that his family should be proud of.”
Leuluai will wear the jersey for the last time for New Zealand in the World Cup warm-up match against Leeds in October.
“It’s a feeling of disappointment, but I’m proud of the group,” he said. “The farewell made things rather difficult, but they continued.
“I’ve had worse losses than this. We came across a great team, I thought Leeds were fantastic. “