Leeds showed remarkable courage and determination to condemn 12-man Wigan to a first home defeat of the season and reach an 11th Super League Grand Final.
The Rhinos were under pressure for virtually the entire first half of the semi-final at DW Stadium, but managed to limit their opponents to a 4-2 lead before finding their attacking rhythm in the second half.
Makeshift hooker Jarrod O’Connor scored his first try for the club and former St Helens second rower James Bentley added two more to help Leeds claim a stunning 20-8 victory that saw them to Old Trafford next Saturday.
The only disappointment for Leeds was an injury to scrum-half Aidan Sezer, who was brought down by a late high tackle from Wigan England striker John Bateman and will miss the Grand Final after failing his injury assessment at the head.
Bateman was shown a red card for the tackle and will now face an anxious wait to find out if his untimely challenge puts his World Cup place in jeopardy, with the Rugby Football League Match Review Committee sure to look closely at the incident on Monday.
Wigan’s misery was compounded by the loss of phenom Bevan French to a foot injury early in the second half and they led 20-4 before hooker Sam Powell scored his 250th appearance for them with a try late consolation.
The defeat ended a disappointing end to the glittering career of Wigan captain Thomas Leuluai, who made his 327th appearance in place of the injured Cade Cust.
For Leeds to reach their first Grand Final in five years must rank among the greatest achievements in the competition’s history.
They were second from bottom in the Super League in April having won just one of their first 10 games, but travel to Old Trafford in good spirits after enjoying a remarkable revival under Rohan Smith.
Former Leeds prop Brad Singleton struck inside the first set but Wigan’s handling was otherwise flawless in the first half and their aggressive defence, combined with superb kicking kept Leeds stuck in their own half for long periods.
The only try of the first half, which came after 10 minutes, was set up by loose striker Morgan Smithies charging in Blake Austin’s kick to gain possession halfway through and, in the last game of the set, Harry Smith’s clean pass found winger Liam. Marshall with just enough room to produce a flying finish in the corner.
Smith was wide with the conversion and he was also off target with a penalty as the Warriors failed to make the weight of possession count on the scoreboard.
Former Wigan center Zak Hardaker relieved the relentless pressure with a counterattack and, although Smith returned to tackle, Hardaker pulled back a few points with a penalty goal after Austin was tackled high by Jai Field.
Field was a constant threat with his pace and elusive running, but French was a virtual passenger on the wing as he struggled to overcome a foot problem suffered in the early stages.
Leeds, pushed by almost 4,000 traveling fans among the 12,777 spectators, rarely left their own half but defended heroically to limit their opponents to a solitary try before half-time.
And their patience and perseverance paid off four minutes into the second half when O’Connor, favored over skipper Kruise Leeming as the Rhinos’ starting hooker, slipped out of the fictional half for the trial that put them ahead.
Hardaker added the conversion and it got even better for the visitors three minutes later when Bentley won Sezer’s grubber kick race to score their second try, Hardaker’s third goal making it 14- 4.
Wigan’s task became virtually impossible when Bateman was shown a red card after 50 minutes for his tackle on Sezer, who played no further role in the game.
Bateman was the first to seek medical assistance for his opponent and went to apologize before leaving the pitch but his start left a huge hole in the Wigan defence, which Leeds exploited in the 65th minute for Bentley to score his second try.
Marshall was denied a second down by the video referee and Powell was held over the line before finally smashing his way from the mock half for the final score of the match.