AN error riddled first half from Warrington Wolves has cost them dearly and they have a lot to do in the second period to keep their Wembley dreams alive.
But despite a lot of defending, a lot of lost possession and cheaply conceded penalties, Wolves will feel as though they are still in this Challenge Cup semi final as long as they still have enough fuel in the tank.
Nervy Wolves took a real pummelling in the hot sun in the opening 15 minutes at Langtree Park, most of which was spent in their own half.
A crazy first kick return from Matty Russell, in which he ran straight into Ben Harrison and caused an obstruction, allowed Kevin Sinfield to boot Leeds into a 2-0 lead from 12 metres after two minutes.
Stefan Ratchford then kicked the ball straight over the dead-ball line from the restart to put his team under pressure, the Wolves stand off then scooping up a grabber at the end of the set as Leeds forced a drop-out.
Leeds forced another drop out from Danny McGuire’s short kick cleaned up by Joel Monaghan as Leeds dominated the early possession.
Chris Bridge, Anthony England and Ben Westwood held Carl Ablett up over the try line as Wolves’ defence held strong but they could not get out of their half, for at the end of the next set Ratchford’s clearance kick ricocheted around and led to Anthony England finding himself offside.
And a high tackle from Ratchford on Joel Moon 15 metres from his own line made it 4-0 in penalties to Leeds as they ramped up the bombardment on Wolves’ line.
Again, Tony Smith’s side resist and a gutsy life-saving tackle by Ben Harrison, Russell and Ratchford prevented Jamie Jones-Buchanan touching down and knocking on in the process.
On brief excursions into Leeds territory a Ratchford bomb was taken easily over his own line by Zak Hardaker and a chance offload from Richie Myler ended up in Ablett’s hands.
It took a 60-metre touch finder from Michael Monaghan to finally look as though Wolves could settle down.
But the next time Wolves got into Leeds’ half the last play ended with Joel Monaghan kicking high but straight into touch.
Simon Grix’s first touch off the bench resulted in a knock-on around Wolves’ 40-metre line as the error count continued to rise alarmingly.
All the pressure finally paid off in the 30th minute as video referee Ben Thaler awarded Ryan Hall a try with benefit of the doubt, squeezing in at the corner flag under the challenge of Joel Monaghan off Moon’s pass.
There was a question mark if Hall lost possession in the act of scoring but video replays were unclear and when Sinfield booted over the extras from the touchline for an 8-0 advantage.
At this stage, Wolves had still not threatened Leeds’ line and a promising half break from Russell broke down with his skilful offload to Myler ruled forward by referee Phil Bentham.
A few minutes later, on the next visit to Leeds’ 20-metre line, Myler’s flat pass to Roy Asotasi was judged to be forward and another error cost Wolves an attacking opportunity.
Wolves’ first great chance to score came to nothing when Kallum Watkins got back to intercept Roy Asotasi’s long pass to Ryan Atkins in broken play after Hardaker lost a hick kick in the sun and Michael Monaghan had pounced to initially keep the ball alive.
Then, Leeds struck again after Hardaker broke through Paul Wood and Asotasi on a kick return.
With Wolves scrambling, McGuire’s long pass from first receiver sent England winger Hall over for his second try and Sinfield’s touchline conversion pushed them 14-0 ahead after 40 minutes.
The nearest Wolves came to scoring was with the final play of the half after a penalty awarded for interference by Moon.
With the clock ticking down Russell found himself in space on an angled run to the line but Delaney clawed him to the floor and the hooter sounded.
Wolves: Matty Russell; Joel Monaghan, Chris Bridge, Ryan Atkins, Rhys Evans; Stefan Ratchford, Richie Myler; Chris Hill, Michael Monaghan, Anthony England, Ben Westwood, Trent Waterhouse, Ben Harrison. Subs: Micky Higham, Roy Asotasi, Paul Wood, Simon Grix.
Leeds: Zak Hardaker; Tom Briscoe, Kallum Watkins, Joel Moon, Ryan Hall; Danny McGuire, Kevin Sinfield; Kylie Leuluai, Rob Burrow, Jamie Peacock, Carl Ablett, Brett Delaney, Jamie Jones-Buchanan. Subs: Pail Aiton, Ryan Bailey, Ian Kirke, Liam Sutcliffe.
Referee: Phil Bentham