Leeds Rhinos’ hopes of advancing in the Betfred Challenge Cup were dashed as they lost their grip on a ten-point lead in a tough second half against Wigan Warriors. The Warriors claimed an 18-14 victory in round six of the tournament, turning the tables on Leeds after the Rhinos had delivered a spectacular second half performance to defeat Wigan in the Super League.
Both teams made changes for the Cup tie, with Leeds welcoming back Aidan Sezer and James McDonnell in place of Blake Austin and James Bentley. Derrell Olpherts also returned on the wing after his appearance in the reserves. Sezer was partnered with Morgan Gannon in the halves, with Gannon taking on the role he had played during the club’s pre-season friendlies.
Headingley Stadium was filled with energy and excitement from the kick-off as fans from both sides got into the spirit of the Cup. Leeds, buoyed by the support of their home crowd, dominated the opening ten minutes, in stark contrast to their previous week’s performance at the DW Stadium. Despite inspiring runs from Nene Macdonald and Morgan Gannon, who tried to break through the Wigan defence following an error from Abbas Miski, Leeds couldn’t find the breakthrough they desired.
Cameron Smith came close to scoring, but Wigan full-back Bevan French’s defensive efforts denied him a glorious opportunity. However, Leeds eventually broke the deadlock when Tom Holroyd powered his way over the try line with an inspired run. Wigan suffered a blow as Ethan Havard exited the game due to injury, leaving their defensive line vulnerable to Holroyd’s strong charge. Rhyse Martin’s successful conversion put Leeds ahead 6-0 after ten minutes.
The first half was full of chances as both teams engaged in a tough battle. After Macdonald was stopped just short of the try line, Wigan sprang to life following a break from Jake Wardle. However, Liam Marshall missed a golden opportunity when his pass to French was deemed forward. Wardle himself was denied by the referee for a forward pass, and French came up short once again, this time due to the efforts of Harry Smith.
With Wigan gaining momentum, an offside penalty against Smith provided Martin an opportunity to extend Leeds’ lead by opting to kick for goal. The score moved to eight points. Shortly after, Harry Newman added to Leeds’ tally with a sensational try in the Cup. Sezer identified a gap in the defence and offloaded to Newman, who raced past French to score, despite having support on either side of him.
French got his revenge by breaching Leeds’ slide defence and putting Wigan on the scoreboard just before halftime. As the teams retreated to the dressing rooms, Leeds held a 14-4 advantage.
Wigan wasted no time in the second half, as Liam Farrell’s break allowed him to pass back inside for French, who scored under the posts. Smith’s successful conversion reduced the gap to four points. The Warriors soon levelled the score through Junior Nsemba, who crashed onto Smith’s pass, silencing the Headingley crowd. However, Smith failed to convert, leaving the score locked at 14-14.
McDonnell and Ryan Hampshire came close to securing additional points for their respective sides, but it was Wigan who took the lead. Myler’s knock-on from a high bomb, pressured by French, resulted in a scrum, and Wardle swiftly manoeuvred his way over the try line to give the Warriors a four-point advantage.
Leeds had a significant opportunity to narrow the scoreline as Newman once again broke through the defence. However, instead of passing to Myler, who was in support, Newman held onto the ball, allowing French to make the crucial tackle. With time running out, Leeds regretted their missed chance as the final whistle blew, ending the game with Wigan progressing to the next round with an 18-14 victory.