|Leigh (6) 6|
|Try: Lam Goal: Reynolds|
|Wigan (10) 10|
|Tries: Field, Wardle Goal: Smith|
Wigan Warriors clinched Super League’s 2023 League Leaders’ Shield as they edged out rivals Leigh Leopards 10-6 on a tense night at Leigh Sports Village.
In an edgy match, during which there was no score by either side in the second half, Wigan held on to register their first league triumph since 2020.
Jai Field weaved Wigan ahead and Jake Wardle extended their lead but Lachlan Lam cut the deficit by half-time.
Oliver Gildart had a try ruled out but Leigh could not find a comeback.
Wigan’s victory means they finish level on points with second-placed Catalans and third-placed St Helens after a remarkable end-of-season title race and take the League Leaders’ Shield on points difference.
Having weathered a terrific Leigh performance in front of a partisan and record home crowd of 10,308, Warriors’ reward for seeing out the win and ensuring first place is a week off before their home semi-final against the lowest-ranked winner from next weekend’s eliminators.
It was a bitter defeat for Leigh as, in combination with Hull KR’s resounding win over Wakefield, they slipped to fifth in the table at the end of the regular season, leading to them losing home advantage for their eliminator tie against the Robins in seven days’ time.
Wigan weather Leigh pressure to see out victory
Field settled Wigan’s nerves when he scored after 18 minutes in impressive fashion, having wrongfooted Ed Chamberlain, Ben Reynolds and Tom Briscoe to touch down for the visitors.
That try kick-started Wigan’s half and Wardle crashed over for their second following good work from Field and Harry Smith in the build-up, although Smith swung his conversion attempt wide.
Sensing the game was still in the balance, a spell of Leigh pressure almost counted when Josh Charnley raced to the corner but he was denied by some monumental defensive work by Wigan and was hauled into touch.
Just minutes later, however, Lam pounced and got the Leopards on the scoreboard when he dived in behind the sticks to give them a much-needed confidence boost right before the break.
Leigh began the second half well and thought they had drawn level when Oliver Gildart went over against his former club.
However, referee Liam Moore ruled the try out on-field for an obstruction on Bevan French in the build-up, and video referee Marcus Griffiths was unable to find a camera angle to overrule him.
The Leopards piled on the pressure for the remainder of the match, but a well-organised and resolute Wigan defence kept them at bay as they held on to claim victory and carry their fine form into their play-off campaign.
Can Wigan win more silverware before Lenagan’s exit?
Wigan’s league victory comes following a remarkable end-of-season run-in during which they won their final nine games of the regular season.
That the battle for top spot went down to the final game, with reigning title winners St Helens also steamrollering their way to the end of the season and Catalans grinding their way towards the finish line, encapsulates how big an achievement it was for Matt Peet’s side to win the League Leaders’ Shield.
Since Peet came in, as replacement for now-Leigh boss Adrian Lam, the club have built on the work of his predecessor.
Lam led the Cherry and Whites to their last League Leaders’ Shield win in 2020 after which they went on to lose that season’s Grand Final in gut-wrenching circumstances after Jack Welsby’s dramatic late try for St Helens in Hull.
But Peet, backed up on his coaching staff by the retired Sean O’Loughlin and Tommy Leuluai, has returned Wigan to their Super League giant status by winning last season’s Challenge Cup in the run up to a remarkably consistent 2023 campaign.
Wigan chairman and co-owner Ian Lenagan watched on as his side battled their way to the decisive derby win, with the victory putting them in good stead going into the club’s final play-off campaign under his tenure before he leaves his position the end of the season.
With just 80 minutes between Wigan and the Super League Grand Final, the club will hope to give Lenagan the perfect send-off if they are to end rivals’ St Helens’ run of four successive title wins.
Leigh Leopards boss Adrian Lam told BBC Radio Manchester:
“It was a great night for rugby league in the sense that it was a record crowd for us. Congratulations to Wigan for being the first past the line.
“Without some important players and leaders in our group I thought we were resilient tonight. We worked hard, we were physical. It was the same as a couple of weeks ago against Saints in that we were close but not the two points we needed.
“There were some massive calls for the outcome of the game and us [potentially] finishing in fourth place and getting a home eliminator. More important it’s the financial side for Derek Beaumont and the club.
“By not having that game here, with the way the game’s going at the moment, that was important to us.
“There’s been a lot of twists and turns this year and this is just another one.
“We’re not finished yet. We’ve still got a strong 80 minutes where anything can happen.”
Wigan Warriors head coach Matt Peet told BBC Radio Manchester:
“It means a great deal. It’s a fantastic honour and no one can take it away from us. It’s a great reflection on everyone at the club as well as the whole squad, the academy, the medical department.
“I’m really proud of the group for securing this award and what it means is we get a home semi-final.
“It shows we’ve been consistent in the league and we get a good pathway to the final which is the main thing. People can make judgements on whether it shows progression or not. I know we’re headed in the right direction and this is a nice token to represent that.
“The fact they’ve come through that test, we’ve not been involved in a game like that for some time so there’s a real steel in terms of physicality but also emotional control. We’ll learn a lot [from this].
“We’ve got a home semi-final. It’s good that we can rest up and you don’t risk injuries or suspensions but we can concentrate on improving ready for the semi-final.”
Leigh: O’Brien; Briscoe, Gildart, Chamberlain, Charnley; Reynolds, Lam; Amone, Ipape, Mulhern, Hughes, O’Donnell, Wardle.
Interchanges: Mellor, Davis, Nakubuwai, Holmes.
Wigan: Field; Miski, King, Wardle, Marshall; French, Smith; Dupree, O’Neill, Ellis, Pearce-Paul, Farrell, Smithies.
Interchanges: Powell, Mago, Hill, Nsemba.
Referee: Liam Moore.
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