The winds of change sweeping through the eight-time Super League champions were more apparent than ever before here on Friday night. They have now lost 12 of their 18 league games this season, the latest another narrow, demoralising setback.
But this was a night about more than the result. In a fortnight’s time another of the club’s golden generation will be gone, with confirmation shortly after full-time that Kallum Watkins will leave to take up a deal in Australia with Gold Coast. It was announced less than two weeks ago that he was going at the end of the season, so this is another sign, irrespective of what the club say, that these are turbulent times for one of the game’s giants.
“What he’s achieved for Leeds will go down in history – but over the next couple of weeks we know he will be fully committed to this club,” the interim coach, Richard Agar, said – while confirming the club will hunt a replacement for the England international immediately. Watkins has two games remaining for Leeds – next Friday at St Helens, the league leaders, who beat Huddersfield 38-2, with his final Headingley appearance coming against Catalans Dragons on 30 June.
Here Leeds’s attacking profligacy was underlined by the fact Oliver Partington’s try with 20 minutes remaining proved to be enough although Tony Clubb did go over after the hooter.
In contrast to Leeds’s troubles, Wigan are now climbing the table following this hard-earned win and their coach, Adrian Lam, said: “To win tight games like these at this time of the year is credit to the players. There was pressure on us this week.”
Wigan led 11-8 at half-time after Oliver Gildart’s try – a rare moment of class in an otherwise attritional affair – plus three goals from Chris Hankinson and a Sam Powell drop goal.
Leeds did go ahead shortly after the restart when Trent Merrin, Watkins’s likely replacement as captain, charged over, with Tui Lolohea’s goal making it 14-11.
But Lolohea’s error 10 minutes later handed Wigan an opportunity they would not waste, Partington scything through on the angle.
While Merrin did come close with another effort in the final minutes Leeds are a side in trouble with their captain preparing for pastures new.
Leeds Lolohea; T Briscoe, Newman, Hurrell, Handley; L Sutcliffe, Myler; Seumanafagai, Dwyer, Singleton, Watkins, Ferres, Merrin. Interchange Oledzki, Smith, Donaldson, Cuthbertson.
Tries Cuthbertson, Merrin Goals Sutcliffe 2, Lolohea
Wigan Sarginson; Marshall, Hankinson, Gildart, Burgess; Williams, Leuluai; Clubb, Powell, Navarrete, Isa, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Interchange Bullock, Partington, Sammut, Smithies.
Tries Gildart, Partington, Clubb Goals Hankinson 5
Referee Chris Kendall