Fifth-placed Leeds continued their march through the play-offs with a semi-final visit to second-placed Wigan on Friday night, with a berth in the Betfred Super Legue Grand Final itself at stake.
The Rhinos have made a tradition of sneaking into the play-offs from unpromising positions, and this year has been no different, winning their spot by beating fellow early season relegation contenders Castleford in the last regular round.
But could they do it again, or would the Warriors put an end to their hopes?
The home team were nine points clear of tonight’s visitors when the regular season ended after 27 rounds.
But the team who have not lost this year on their own pitch gave up possession seconds into the game with a knock-on by Brad Singleton at the play-they ball. They quickly made up for the mistake, though, by snuffing out Leeds’ first attack with a tackle into touch.
But by the time five minutes had been played both sides settled in and were exchanging clean sets.
However, Wigan were first to cross the line where French competed unsuccessfully to get onto the end of a Jai Field kick. and then got repeat possession when they successfully charged down the Leeds kick to end the Rhinos’ next set.
That ended up giving Liam Marshall the chance to dart down the left sideline and ground just inside the field. Harry Smith couldn’t convert the touchline kick though and the score stood at 4-0 after 12 minutes.
With 14 minutes gone, the Warriors won possession in the Leeds 10m after another tackle into touch but couldn’t make it count and instead gave the Rhinos a scrum.
However, on 18 minutes they got the chance to kick at goal from in front when they won a penalty from their own scrum after Leeds broke early. But once more, Smith couldn’t convert the chance despite the tee being practically in front of the posts.
As the game approached the half hour mark, the score remained unchanged as the Leeds defence held solid against set after set of Wigan attacks played in their own 20m zone. Meanwhile Bevan French was looking decidedly uncomfortable limping on the right wing but staying on on the field. The team had had taken a big gamble in naming four forwards on the bench.
With the 35-minute mark approaching, Leeds made their first foray into the Wigan 20m and promptly won a penalty in front of the posts for a Warriors hight tackle. Zak Hardaker made no mistake with his kick and halved the deficit at 4-2, where it stayed until the break.
As play resumed, all eyes were on French as the question was asked "would he last?".
But it was the Rhinos' Jarrod O'Connor who lit up the stadium with the first score of the half after five minutes, scything through a retreating Wigan defence for his first senior try. Hardaker kicked the conversion and after trailing 4-2, Leeds lead by 4-8.
James Bentley then added another four points on the opposite flank, with a clean pick up and put down off an Aidan Sezer kick. Hardaker converted again. And having withstood a relentless Wigan onslaught for the whole of the first half, Leeds now had clear lead 14-4 lead.
Then things got worse for Wigan. With French now off the field, John Bateman was shown a red card, and Wigan reduced to 12 men, for a late tackle on Sezer with direct contact to the head. The Leeds man failed his HIA which ruled him out of next week's Grand Final if Leeds could turn their lead into a win.
The 12 men pressed forward, though, putting pressure on the Rhinos and winning penalties in the Leeds 20m.
Marshall got onto the end of a kick and touched down for Wigan but lost contact with the ball is he put it down and a "no try" decision followed and Leeds were still 14-4 ahead with an extra man on the field as the game hit the three-quarter mark.
The Rhinos' numbers were always going to tell, and Bentley scored a classic second rower's try - his second of the night - with 65 minutes on the clock. Hardaker's conversion made it 4-20, and with just over 10 minutes of the match left, looked to have ended Wigan's season.
Warriors weren't giving up, though, and hooker Sam Powell dived low and hard from a play-the-ball just in front of the posts, but was held up.
As the last five minutes ran down, Powell dived again from dummy half and this time he was successful. There was no conversion, but Wigan doubled their score to 8-20.
And when the hooter blew just minutes later Leeds – who played in the first Super League Grand Final in 1998 - had secured their first Old Trafford trip for five years.
A team which couldn't stop others scoring against them at the start of the season, had got to another Final from fifth, on the back of an outstanding defensive display throughout the a first forty minutes that had all been Wigan.
Now the question on everyones lips was whether sixth-placed Salford repeat the same magic against league leaders St Helens?
Wigan Warriors: Field; French, Pearce-Paul, Bibby, Marshall (T); Smith, Leuluai; Singleton, Powell, Byrne, Isa, Bateman (Red 50min, Smithies. Subs: Mago, Ellis, Havard, Cooper.
Leeds Rhinos: Myler; Tindall, Sutcliffe, Hardaker (2G, P), Briscoe; Sezer, Austin; Oledzki, O'Connor (T), Prior, Bentley (2T), Tetevano, Smith. Subs: Thompson, Leeming, Walters, Leeming, Donaldson.
Full Time: 8-20
Score Progression: 4-0, 4-2. HT. 4-6, 4-8, 4-12, 4-14, 4-18, 4-20, 8-20.
Lead Exchanges: Wigan - Leeds
Referee: Liam Moore.