Wigan Warriors clinched their first silverware of the season, a week off, and a home semi-final in the play-offs courtesy of a 10-6 win against Leigh Leopards.
Here are our five takeaways from the televised Round 27 clash at the Leigh Sports Village, otherwise known as the ‘Battle of the Borough 3.0’…
Top spot secured by Wigan
With their ninth straight Super League win, Matt Peet’s side sealed top spot with a narrow victory over neighbours Leigh. No points were scored in the second half by either side.
It’s the third time that the Warriors have beaten the Leopards in 2023, and the second away from home. Wigan boss Peet spoke to Sky Sports pre-game and said the home semi-final tie was the biggest incentive to finish the regular season as top dogs.
That may be the case, but we’re sure he and his side will have enjoyed lifting the League Leaders’ Shield in front of a packed out away end a few miles down the road.
The club hadn’t won the shield since 2020 when now-Leigh boss Adrian Lam guided the Cherry and Whites to top spot behind closed doors during the first ‘COVID year’, so that monkey is off their back now. They haven’t won a Grand Final since 2018, that’s quite obviously the aim, and it’ll take a very good performance from someone to stop them doing that this year.
Jai has a ‘Field’ day again at the LSV
Full-back Jai Field is one of the key men that make things tick for Wigan, and it proved that way again tonight, particularly with a standout performance in the first 40 minutes.
He scored two tries in their 34-6 victory at Leigh back in March, and opened the scoring on the final night of the regular season to set the Warriors on their way with a neat finish, dancing through numerous defenders tight to the touchline when it looked virtually impossible to do so.
The Australian ace, who was badly injured on his Wigan debut against Leigh back in 2021, then assisted Jake Wardle for what turned out to be the winning try to take his tally up to 16 tries and 21 assists for the campaign.
In the second 40, he contributed in defence as Leigh were kept scoreless, and can now – along with the rest of his teammates – look forward to a home clash in the semis against either Leigh, Hull KR or Warrington Wolves in a fortnight’s time.
Controversial calls from the officials
Midway through the second half, both sides saw tries disallowed for obstruction within minutes of one another.
Wigan’s – coming through Field – was more clear-cut with Junior Nsemba making contact with a Leopards defender in-play and stopping a shuffle across to try and keep out the Warriors.
Leigh’s disallowed effort though, which would have seen them level the scores at 10-10 with a kick to come, was simplybaffling. Oliver Gildart crossed after some nice link-up play including Lachlan Lam, but match official Liam Moore sent it up to video referee Marcus Griffiths as a no try.
It appeared some accidental contact – which Griffiths is in his own words said looked to have been forced by the Wigan defender – had been made by Ben Nakubuwai. The call wasn’t overturned because ‘there wasn’t sufficient evidence’ against Moore’s on-field call. Questionable, to say the least.
Injuries hampering Leigh
When the team news was released at the Leigh Sports Village, having been named in the initial 21-man squad, captain John Asiata was omitted from the matchday 18 as he had been last week against Wakefield Trinity.
But Sky Sports reporter Jenna Brooks confirmed that the injury was worse than first feared just a few minutes into the Round 27 clash having spoken to Leigh’s club doctor. Asiata and centre Zak Hardaker, who has broken his hand, now look likely to be ruled out for their inaugural play-off campaign.
Frankie Halton is also out of action, and Leigh are being hampered by injuries at the worst possible time of the year. It’s not looking good for them. Additionally, Tom Amone was placed on report after an accidental contact with Toby King’s head late in the first half. We’ll await the Match Review Panel’s decision on that one.
Leopards lose home advantage next week
Unfortunately for the Leopards, their gut-wrenching defeat and a big 56-12 Hull KR win at Wakefield combined were enough to see the Robins overtake them on the ladder at the eleventh hour via points difference.
Accordingly, they’ll now have to visit Craven Park next week in the ‘eliminator’ section of the play-offs, rather than Willie Peters’ side having to make the trip to the LSV.
Leigh have already visited East Hull twice this year, picking up their first win of the year with a late try from Josh Charnley back in March, but being absolutely mauled by KR more recently.
In-between those two meetings, the Leopards beat their last-six opponents on home soil and unforgettably at Wembley in the Challenge Cup final. You get the feeling the Robins’ home advantage next week will play a big factor now, though.