The Wigan Warriors were looking for a return to the top of the table and knew that a win of any veriety would achieve that due to their superior points difference over the other two minor premiership hopefuls, the Catalans Dragons and arch-rivals St Helens.
The Rhinos came into the game in the full knowledge that a defeat, while not mathematically ending their hopes of a play-off place, would effectively do so, and snuff out the final light on a very disappointing season.
The bookies had the visitors as strong favourites for the win and gave the Rhinos an eight-point start on the handicap coupon; the scene was set for it to be a miserable Saturday afternoon for the Headingley Southstand faithful.
It was baking hot as the sides took the field, water breaks scheduled for every twenty minutes throughout the game.
Leeds came closest to open the scoring on six when Ash Handley tapped back a Jack Sinfield kick to Harry Newman, the Rhinos centre unable to take the ball for a walk-in try.
Leeds appeared to hit the front on twelve when Newman picked up a loose Wigan pass to go seventy metres and score. The referee spotted a double knock-on in the build up and the Rhinos had the scrum rather than the try.
The Leeds defence was almost non-existent on fourteen when Jake Wardle jumped to take a Harry Smith pinpoint kick and drop over the line. Smith added the conversion for a 6-0 lead.
Wigan doubled their lead on twenty-two when Liam Farrell jumped to take a Smith kick but missed the ball. The ball hit Rhyse Martin and dropped into goal to be grounded by Jai Field for a second try of the game. Smith added the conversion for 12-0.
Superb fast hands from the Warriors on thirty-two ripped through the Rhinos defence with Liam Marshall taking the final ball and crossing in the left corner after running in over the last ten metres. This time Smith hit the far upright with his conversion attempt but Wigan running away with the game.
Two minutes before the interval the game was put beyond the Rhinos. From the back of the scrum the ball was moved to the left with Wardle hitting the ball at speed and crossing to ground with the attached tackler making no difference. Smith hit the target this time for a 22-0 lead.
Thefre were seventy second on the second half clock when Kai Pearce-Paul collected a charged down Luke Hooley click and was on hand to take the pass inside from Morgan Smithies and go over under the sticks from forty metres. Smith added the conversion for 28-0.
James Donaldson went close off a forward pass on fifty-one as the Rhinos tried to get a foothold in the game.
A sensational Hooley 40-20 on fifty-seven gave the Rhinos possession close to the Wigan line but a Sam Walters offload went into Wigan hands and Leeds were foiled again.
Wardle completed his hat-trick on sixty-two, the first of his career, as he waltzed through the Rhinos defence as Morgan Gannon failed to make the tackle. Smith’s conversion crept inside the near post for 34-0, the Rhinos with no answer to the Wigan onslaught as they headed back to the top of the table.
On seventy Abbas Miski grabbed his customary try as he carved through three Leeds defenders to score under the sticks, the Rhinos defence getting frustrated that they had leaked yet another score. Smith added the conversion to bring up forty unanswered points.
Liam Farrell reversed over the line on seventy-four to get in on the act as Leeds again failed to deal with the run despite a numerical advantage. Smith was wide with his conversion attempt but a fifty for Wigan was on the cards.
The icing on the cake was a Patrick Mago try on seventy-eight, taking a short ball from Nsemba on the Leeds line to round behind the sticks and give Smith a simple seventh goal to extend the lead to fifty points to nil, the Rhinos totally humiliated.
It didn’t come but the Warriors scored a massive defeat in the context of their season as they returned to the top of the pile and massively improved their points difference, making them cast iron favourites to take the league leaders trophy. The Rhinos season is effectively over, the slimmest of mathematical hopes will be over tomorrow if Warrington beat the Salford Red Devils.
Leeds Rhinos: Hooley, Fusitu’a, Newman, Martin, Handley, Gannon, Sinfield, Oledzki, O’Connor, Holroyd, McDonnell, Walters, Smith. Subs: Lisone, Johnson, Ruan, Donaldson. 18th Man: Edgell.
Wigan Warriors: Field (T), Miski (T), King, Wardle (3T), Marshall (T), French, Smith (7G), Ellis, O’Neill, Byrne, Pearce-Paul (T), Farrell (T), Smithies. Subs: Powell, Nsemba, Mago (T), Dupree. 18th Man: Shorrocks.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-6, 0-10, 0-12, 0-16, 0-20, 0-22 : HT: 0-26, 0-28, 0-32, 0-34, 0-38, 0-40, 0-44, 0-48, 0-50 :FT.
Lead Exchanges: Wigan.
Referee: Jack Smith.