LEEDS coach Brian McDermott labelled replacement video referee Ian Smith “anal” as the curtain came down on the Magic Weekend in suitably controversial style.
Referees boss Steve Ganson was to have been the eye in the sky for the final game of the carnival weekend at Manchester’s Etihad Stadium but he sensationally stood himself down after getting wrong a crucial call in the Hull-Hull KR derby.
And so it was Smith who disallowed a 72nd minute Danny McGuire try that would have tied the scores between Wigan and Leeds with eight minutes remaining.
“I don’t want to use that as a reason why we lost the game, numerically it stops us getting points on the board so it had a bearing. It was an anal decision I thought, a very anal decision,” McDermott said.
“Nobody was obstructed, it didn’t have an effect on the play. So whoever pressed the button there understands the rules, probably doesn’t understand the game.”
Wests Tigers-bound Wigan flanker Pat Richards played a crucial role in securing the 20-16 win by scoring a try, sending four goals over and suffering a nasty cut to the head. He needed 20 stitches to a cheek wound but was on hand to make a crucial tackle at the death.
The first try of the game came from fullback Sam Tomkins after just eight minutes and Richards’ conversion saw Wigan gain the lead they would only lose once.
Sinfield weighed-in with a try in 20th minute, fed by Zak Hardaker’s break, and an easy conversion gave Leeds the upper hand for the first time.
But this didn’t last for long as two minutes later Richards capitalised on a spill from Ryan Bailey and converted to give Wigan the lead they would precariously maintain for the remainder of the game.
Richards then extended the lead to 14-6 from another penalty before Kallum Watkins closed the gap with a gutsy effort in the 35th minute as the video official confirmed he just found the corner under close scrutiny from several Wigan defenders.
Josh Charnley scored a dazzling four-pointer on the bell for halftime as Matty Smith scooped up a kick which had smashed into Chris Tuson to send the winger clear.
In the early second half stages, Sam Powell almost managed to put the Warriors into a comfortable lead with a dainty run over the line but the video was used to make the first controversial call and it was disallowed for a Liam Farrell obstruction.
Yet another Wigan penalty was awarded and Richards opted to kick again, keeping Wigan in front by four.
In the 52nd minute winger Joe Vickery made the most of some quick Leeds passing to nip round the Wigan defence and make the score a dangerously close 20-16 after Sinfield pushed the conversion wide.
The score would remain the same for the last half an hour but it was not without drama.
The disallowed McGuire try sent an audible sigh of relief round the Wigan camp.
“I was relieved obviously,” said Wigan coach Shaun Wane. “I’d rather them not score but I was more concerned with how it happened and the build up to it.
“The referee dealt with it correctly and we move on but I’m still pleased with our attitude, we stayed in with them and even though our attack was nowhere near as crisp as it had been.
“Leeds are a team that can score, they’ve got that much quality in their team. You can never write them off but I still thought we could pull something out of the bag.
“Sam (Tomkins) is playing with the energy. I thought Matty Smith could do something. I was confident we would get over, ourselves.”
Richards, meanwhile, was typically modest from the Warriors changing room. Straight from the doctor’s table and the last to get changed after taking the bang to the head with 15 minutes of the game to go, Richards explained his tactics.
“Leeds were doing the same thing – with games like this you have to take the two points when you can get them and we did that tonight and it worked out well for us,” said Richards.
“I think we ground it really and we did well to shut them out near the end. With a quality side like Leeds we are pretty happy with our defence.”
Wane admitted: “At times we were trying to go round them instead of through them. I thought our middles played really well but when we did put our plays we just weren’t at our best.
“I think we have come a long way from the defeat at Leeds in March and that was my big challenge for this year.
“I wanted to make sure our second string players like Sam Powell, I wanted them to be ready to play and that’s where we fell short last year.”
With just six minutes to go, the clock was not stopped while Richards was treated for the bloodied head wound that would later receive more than 20 stitches.
Yet the 2010 Man of Steel carried on to make the match winning tackle on Vickery with 56 seconds to go.
“It was alright – there are plenty of other tougher blokes in the side than me,” said a modest Richards.
“I was just doing my job out there and everyone has played their role today. It was just good to get the win.”
Wane said: “It was a real arm wrestle for many periods of the game and that was the most satisfying thing. I thought it was a quality game for spectators.”
WIGAN 20 (S Tomkins P Richards J Charnley tries P Richards 4 goals) bt LEEDS 16 (K Sinfield K Watkins J Vickery tries K Sinfield 2 goals) at Etihad Stadium, Manchester. Referee: R Silverwood.
Final team lists:
LEEDS: Zak Hardaker; Joe Vickery, Kallum Watkins, Joel Moon, Ryan Hall; Danny McGuire, Kevin Sinfield; Liam Sutcliffe. Chris Clarkson, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Ryan Bailey, Rob Burrow, Kylie Leuluai. Res: Paul McShane, Ian Kirke, Mitch Achurch, Brad Singleton.
WIGAN: Sam Tomkins; Josh Charnley, Darrell Goulding, Iain Thornley, Pat Richards; Sam Powell, Matty Smith; Sean O’Loughlin, Liam Farrell, Harrison Hansen, Lee Mossop, Michael McIlorum, Ben Flower. Res: Epalahame Lauaki, Chris Tuson, Logan Tomkins, Dom Crosby.