Against the odds, Leeds Rhinos are again headed to the Super League Grand Final.
It’s their first in five years and sees Leeds chasing a ninth title with what would be a remarkable third Super League title after finishing fifth in the league.
It has been a remarkable transformation from battling relegation when Rohan Smith arrived to potential Grand Final glory after the game Smith noted his pride: “Personally I didn’t really know what to say, or feel other than really proud and privileged to be a part of it. Now that the dust settles, I’m starting to think about next week a bit.”
However, he was keen to put the focus on his players noting that the journey started in pre-season: “A whole heap of hard work since last November. That’s what it comes down to an accumulation since training started. Some blokes have been preparing for that moment their whole career or life.
“They’ve been connected as a group over the last few months, that’s what kept us in there.”
But what as the key to Leeds’ victory tonight? Well it was most likely their herculean defensive effort to absorb wave after wave of Wigan pressure in the first 40 – a Wigan side who have been the best attacking side in Super League this year and unbeaten at home – to still be in the game at 4-2 at the break.
Smith agreed: “I think our goal line defence has been very good for a long time now, there’s a lot of trust and belief. We were pretty calm and relaxed and doing their job. We had a few near misses but it’s not always going to be perfect.
“I wasn’t at all worried. It’s part of the game, there’s a belief in the group that we would get through it and we did.”
In terms of points, the crucial game turning try was Jarrod O’Connor first as a professional. Smith acknowledged its importance but also praised the play before: “Very important, but the play before where Zane buried his nose. The play the ball was as good as the try.”
After that James Bentley grabbed a brace either side of a John Bateman red card. Sam Powell grabbed a consolation try on a landmark appearance but it didn’t stop Leeds from marching on together to an 11th Grand Final.