Brilliant Bevan French leads Wigan to Challenge Cup win

·2-min read
Daniel Pockett/AAP PHOTOS

Australian flyer Bevan French has sparked a blistering second-half revival as holders Wigan booked their place in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup with a hard-fought 18-14 win over Leeds at Headingley.

Eight days after the Warriors blew a 14-point lead to slump to a 40-18 defeat to the 12-man Rhinos in their Super League clash at the DW Stadium, the roles were reversed as Matt Peet's men scrubbed out a similar deficit on Saturday.

Jake Wardle scampered over to put Wigan in front for the first time on 65 minutes, but Leeds missed a golden chance to at least draw level late on when Harry Newman sprang clear only to inexplicably fail to pass inside to Richie Myler, who looked certain to score.

Such an engrossing finale between the Challenge Cup's two most successful teams had looked unlikely after a relatively flat first half from which the Rhinos emerged 14-6 in front.

The immediate response demanded by Warriors coach Peet to last week's embarrassment had been slow in coming, as his patched-up side, still minus their other Australian star back Jai Field and with Ryan Hampshire making a second debut for the club in the halves, toiled through the first-half hour.

Tom Holroyd pushed through a sluggish visitors' line to open the scoring on nine minutes, Rhyse Martin adding the extras for Rohan Smith's side who themselves lacked injured do Ash Handley and Blake Austin.

Wardle revived Wigan with a surge across the halfway line, then had a try ruled out for a forward pass by French, but the visitors were hit by the loss of Ethan Havard with a suspected dislocated elbow.

Martin stretched Leeds' lead to eight after an offside, then Newman went it alone as he juggled his way through a Havard-sized hole in the visitors rearguard, evading French on the line.

Martin's second conversion put his side 14-0 in front but Peet's men rallied and four minutes later they capitalised on a knock-on by Derrell Olpherts, Harry Smith finding French who crossed in the corner.

The momentum swung within 30 seconds of the restart as Liam Farrell sent French through a gap and under the posts for his second, Smith's kick hauling the visitors back within four at 14-10.

The Wigan pressure continued and they were level on 53 minutes through impressive 18-year-old Junior Nsemba, who ran onto a cool lay-off from Smith to notch his first try on his fourth Super League appearance.

Wigan completed their turnaround on 65 after Myler fumbled a high ball on the edge of his own 10, and the impressive Wardle scampered over from the resulting scrum.

In electing to repeat his single-handed heroics from the first half, Newman then ran into resolute player-of-the-match French, and Leeds' Challenge Cup hopes were over.