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FULL TIME, PICTURES ADDED: Warrington Wolves 40 Leeds Rhinos 20
FOUR-try Bennie Westwood starred as Warrington Wolves shrugged off the challenge of defending champions Leeds Rhinos to earn a place in the play-off semi finals.
The outstanding second rower’s four-try haul was the highlight in an excellent all-round performance from the hosts, who also added further tries from Simon Grix, Ryan Atkins and Lee Briers to earn a chance to select their semi-final opponents in the Clubcall on September 22.
Briers, who was perhaps lucky to be on the field after a brawl with Carl Ablett in the first half, produced some brilliant play with both hand and boot as Wolves relentlessly piled pressure on the visitors in the second half.
Briers and the excellent Michael Monaghan at hooker worked well off the back of Wolves' superior forwards to allow Leeds very little ball after the break, reaping the rewards as the champions struggled to find a foothold.
Leeds crumbled under the pressure, earning brief respite through Zak Hardaker’s second half brace but ultimately coming up short to give Wolves only their second play-off win against the Rhinos.
It was a frantic and error-strewn start, with both sides guilty of knocking on and giving away needless penalties in the opening 10 minutes. Wolves were the first beneficiaries of the exchange of penalties, Briers being held down to give the hosts a chance to open the scoring. They did so on the next set, Briers’ delicate grubber finding Westwood charging through to twist over the line. Ratchford added the extras.
The errors continued with Westwood knocking on under pressure, leading to Chris Hill making a last-ditch tackle on Kevin Sinfield to prevent Rhinos’ dangerous attack.
Leeds though, managed to level the scores regardless. Paul Wood’s errant pass to Ryan Bailey gave the visitors another crack of the whip and Burrow was on hand to capitalise, shrugging off the challenge of Simon Grix before sending the supporting Kallum Watkins sliding over on the right. Sinfield’s goal levelled the scores after 12 minutes.
Burrow was proving to be difficult to handle, as it was his quick feet and thinking that sent Leeds into the lead seven minutes later. It was the diminutive hooker’s break that started the move, with Watkins and Ben Jones-Bishop in support and Sinfield on hand to cross of the winger’s inside pass. The try was not without its own controversy though, as the winger’s pass looked forward as he moved the ball back inside.
Frustrations and tempers were running high during the breathless first-half exchanges and tempers flared after Carl Ablett’s high shot on Briers. The stand-off reacted with a fist, sparking a melee in the centre of the pitch that ended with Leeds winning a penalty.
Grix, on his 150th Super League appearance, had not looked his best in the opening 25 minutes. But made amends superbly with a solo try to recapture the lead. Michael Monaghan’s dart from dummy half sent Grix breaking through and he dummied Zak Hardaker brilliantly to cross between the sticks. Ratchford’s goal made it 12-10.
It was still neck and neck, however, and Leeds continued to look threatening as half time approached. Luckily for the hosts Ryan Hall’s break down the wing ended with a knock on, as Sinfield touched the winger’s inside pass before it reached Moon in open space.
As if to twist the knife, Wolves quickly went on to score in the following play to open an 18-10 lead at the break. Briers’ superb delayed pass found Westwood running a line through the Leeds defence and the charging second rower carried three defenders over the line before being given the benefit of the doubt by video referee Phil Bentham. Briers’ converted.
The hosts started the second half well and truly on the front foot. Leeds opened after the break with a forward pass and barely managed to touch the ball for the following 10 minutes. It was Chris Riley’s tackle on Watkins that gave Wolves the chance to stretch their lead, Michael Monaghan breaking brilliantly on a dummy half dart and sending the supporting Westwood over for his hat-trick try. Ratchofrd missed the kick, but Wolves led 22-10 after 48 minutes.
Briers then heaped on the pressure with an outstanding 40/20 and though Wolves were unable to make that count directly, Leeds’ line defence was under sustained pressure. The visitors had the chance to release that pressure with a penalty, but when Kylie Leuluai knocked on, Wolves once again took the chance to camp out inside Leeds’ half.
Garreth Carvell’s break from a Michael Monaghan pass almost resulted in a fourth try for Westwood, but the second row knocked on as he looked for the line. But Wolves’ fifth try was not far off, Briers pouncing on a loose ball to dive over the line and open a 28-10 lead once he had added the extras.
Leeds did manage to craft a glimmer of hope among the primrose and blue avalanche, following Riley’s knock on from a high kick. Rhinos pounced on Wolves’ scrambling wing defence to send Hardaker over in the corner, though Sinfield pulled the goal attempt wide.
But just like they had all game, Briers and Westwood had a trick up their sleeve to restore Wolves’ advantage. Once again Westwood was on hand to drop on top of Briers’ well-placed grubber, the forward’s fourth try in a remarkable game. Briers converted before heading off the pitch as a substitute.
There was still time for Hardaker to add another try six minutes from time and Ryan Atkins to kick over the top to score one of his own off a loose Sinfield pass, but the result was already wrapped up. Wolves had well and truly run roughshod over the reigning champions with an outstanding second-half performance that secured them a berth in the play-off semi finals and a choice of their opponent thanks to the Clubcall rule.
Wolves: Stefan Ratchford; Joel Monaghan, Chris Bridge, Ryan Atkins, Chris Riley; Lee Briers, Simon Grix; Chris Hill, Micky Higham, Paul Wood, Trent Waterhouse, Ben Westwood, Ben Harrison. Subs: Adrian Morley, Michael Monaghan, Garreth Carvell, Mike Cooper.
Leeds: Zak Hardaker; Ben Jones-Bishop, Kallum Watkins, Joel Moon, Ryan Hall; Danny McGuire, Kevin Sinfield; Kylie Leuluai, Rob Burrow, Jamie Peacock, Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Carl Ablett, Ryan Bailey. Subs: Brett Delaney, Brad Singleton, Ian Kirke, Liam Sutcliffe.
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