Wigan Warriors claimed the League Leaders Shield on points difference from Catalans Dragons and St Helens with a hard-earned victory over near neighbours Leigh Leopards.
Tries from Jai Field and Jake Wardle plus a conversion from Harry Smith looked to have put Matt Peet’s side on course for a routine victory.
But Leigh hit back just before half-time with a try from Lachlan Lam, added to by Ben Reynolds which cut the deficit to 10-6.
⏱ 𝙁𝙐𝙇𝙇 𝙏𝙄𝙈𝙀
— Wigan Warriors 🍒⚪️ (@WiganWarriorsRL) September 22, 2023
No points were scored in a titanic second half as Wigan were forced to hang on for their eighth straight win, which secured top spot in Super League and the shield which they were presented with on the pitch after the game.
Leigh started the night in fourth but dropped to fifth after Hull KR’s big win at Wakefield. It means Leigh will face Hull KR – the team they beat in the Challenge Cup Final – at Craven Park in the play-offs.
The home side were without influential skipper John Asiata for the third game running through a shoulder injury. Former Wigan centre Zak Hardaker was also missing with a hand problem.
It was an explosive start in front of a sold-out crowd at the Leigh Sports Village with both sides coming up with some big hits to make it a crackling atmosphere.
The home side had looked the more likely to open the scoring but it was the visitors who struck first in the 18th minute. Field showed great footwork after taking Smith’s pass to beat three Leigh defenders and score in the corner. Smith – making his 100th appearance for Wigan – added the conversion to make it 6-0.
Wigan had beaten Leigh three times already this season and scored a second try 10 minutes later – Smith and Field combining on the left edge to send Wardle in at the corner. Smith could not add the goal but the Warriors looked in control at 10-0.
The introduction of Joe Mellor from the bench gave the Challenge Cup winners some impetus and they finished the half strongly. Reynolds combined with Kai O’Donnell on the left edge and Lam hit the pass at pace to cut through and score. Reynolds kicked the conversion to cut the deficit to just four.
Both sides felt aggrieved to see potential tries disallowed in quick succession early in the second half. Field was pulled back after an earlier obstruction before Oliver Gildart’s effort for Leigh was sent to the video referee and ruled out after lengthy deliberation.
Leigh continued to press in the closing stages but they were thwarted by some determined Wigan defence.