Matt Peet´s side defeat at Hull KR last time out, a loss which cost them their place at the top of the table, ensured that their return to the DW Stadium was one that they would be desperate to mark with a win, as they took on the Leeds Rhinos in a Super League rehearsal of next weeks Betfred Challenge Cup sixth round tie.
The top of the Super League was far from the mind of Rhinos coach Rohan Smith who was more concerned about a top six finish and preventing his stars from facing up to one another in the tunnel, like they did after last weekend´s loss the Salford Red Devils.
Leeds had been given a ten-point start on the coupon with the Warriors strong favourites for a return to form, and possibly to the top of the table should leaders Warrington slip up against third placed Hull KR in one of tonight’s other Super League fixtures.
Both sides made early errors in an evenly matched opening fifteen minutes but after relentless pressure from the Warriors, Abbas Miski found plenty of space on the overlap to take a Joe Shorrocks long pass and dive in at the corner for the opening try of the game. Harry Smith kicked a brilliant touchline conversion for a 6-0 lead.
James Bentley wiped himself out with a chase hit on Miski on twenty-two, the Rhinos second rower helped off for a head impact assessment.
Direct from a scrum after a Leeds knock on, Bevan French pushed his way over the line under a pile of Leeds defenders to force the ball onto the ground for Wigan´s second try of the game. Smith added the conversion for a 12-0 lead, Wigan good value for their twelve points.
Leeds were judged offside on their own twenty on thirty-two minutes, Smith kicking the two point penalty to further extend the Wigan lead.
Leeds edged themselves back into the game on thirty-four minutes thanks to a Harry Newman interception and sixty-five metre run to outpace Morgan Smithies and Bevan French to go over in the right-hand corner. Rhyse Martin added the conversion, the Rhinos eight points behind.
Leeds evening took a turn for the worse when a late tackle to the head from Zane Tetevano on Harry Smith saw the Rhinos man red-carded, for the third time in his Rhinos career, the Rhinos trailing at the interval.
Richie Myler earned a 40-20 a minute after the restart but coughed up possession on the second play but a never say die attitude saw the Rhino in for their second as Tom Holroyd crashed between two Wigan tacklers to ground on the line. Martin added the extras, and the Wigan lead was down to just two points.
Confusion in the Wigan defence with Smith allowing a Richie Myler high kick to bounce which then allowed Cameron Smith to pick up the loose ball and pass inside to Myler to dive over by the uprights to snatch the lead for the Rhinos. Martin added the conversion for an incredible 18-14 lead.
When Wigan finally got some ball and position, they went in for their third of the game on fifty-six, a long looping pass finding Iain Thornley on the left wing to score in the corner. Smith was unable to add the conversion from the touchline, the two sides all tied up at 18-18.
A second Newman interception, this time just after the hour mark put the Rhinos back in front. Again it was a wayward Harry Smith pass, and again the Rhinos centre ran sixty-five metres to score under the sticks. Martin added the conversion, Leeds six points ahead.
Leeds kept the ball alive on the last tackle on sixty-five, Rhyse Martin the beneficiary of a Morgan Gannon pass on this occasion as he swept aside the Wigan defence to stretch for the line. Martin failed to convert his own try but the Rhinos stretched their lead to ten points. Leeds were looking unstoppable, Wigan were looking broken.
On sixty-eight Cam Smith carved through the Wigan defence and scored under the uprights and when Martin added the conversion it was 34-18 to the Rhinos, a stunning fightback from the twelve men.
Bevan French was sin-binned on seventy-six for a professional foul to end a miserable night for the Warriors.
The icing on the cake was a third Rhinos interception try when Liam Tindall took a wayward pass sixty from his own line to sidestep the last Wigan man and score close to the posts to allow Martin the conversion and bring up the forty points on the night and a stunning win against all the odds.
It was back-to-back defeats for the Warriors as an archetypal ´game of two halves´ ended in the Rhinos favour, despite losing a man late in the second half, and playing the second half with twelve men. Rohan Smith will be delighted with the performance of his side after what must have been an inspirational half time chat, while Peet will be left scratching his head at what he´d just witnessed. Once again the Rhinos win from adversity, now they need to learn to win when they are favourites if they are to challenge in 2023.
Wigan Warriors: French (T, SB on 76), Miski (T), King, Wardle, Thornley (T), Shorrocks, Smith (3G), Havard, Powell, Byrne, Isa, Farrell, Smithies. Subs: Mago, O´Neill, Cust, Pearce-Paul. 18th Man: Hampshire.
Leeds Rhinos: Handley, MacDonald, Newman (2T), Martin (T, 6G), Tindall (T), Austin, Myler (T), Oledzki, O´Connor, Lisone, Tetevano (SO on 38), Bentley, Smith (T). Subs: Donaldson, Holroyd (T), Gannon, Sangare. 18th Man: Johnson.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, 10-0, 12-0, 14-0, 14-4, 14-6, (SO) : HT: 14-10, 14-12, 14-16, 14-18, 18-18, 18-22, 18-24, 18-28, 18-32, 18-34, (SB), 18-38, 18-40: FT.
Lead Exchanges: Wigan – Leeds – Square – Leeds.
Referee: Liam Moore.