MAN of Steel: Sam Tomkins - the RFL may as well inscribe the full-back’s name on the coveted piece of silverware now.
The full-back has been incredible all year, and yesterday he scored four tries against Salford to help Wigan to their 10th straight victory.
After the euphoria of their Challenge Cup semi-final victory over St Helens a week earlier, there was always the danger that an unglamourous fixture against Salford would be a let-down.
But Wigan compensated for the lack of tension and drama with a commanding display in which they racked up a half-century of points.
And leading the way was that man Tomkins.
So much has been said and written about the full-back this year, it’s tempting to resist singling him out for praise. But when he crosses for a hat-trick before the half-time break, it’s impossible not to salute his stunning contribution.
He has now scored tries in each of the last five matches, and his haul yesterday – all of real quality - took his tally to 24 Super League tries this season.
Tomkins’ defensive contributions did not go unnoticed either, especially when he tracked back Danny Williams midway through the second-half and hauled him into touch, saving a certain try.
Salford showed their battling qualities at times but they couldn’t keep up with Wigan’s pace and panache.
Brett Finch and Thomas Leuluai orchestrated the attack and everyone carried out their roles with real purpose, but fittingly it was Tomkins who put the crowning glory on the victory with his fourth try at the death.
Maguire’s decision to rest Paul Deacon and Jeff Lima presented opportunities for Gareth Hock and Darrell Goulding on the bench, the latter making his first appearance in more than a month.
Salford’s side included four ex-Warriors – Sean Gleeson, Stephen Wild, Iafeta Paleaaesina and Wayne Godwin.
Wigan had lost just one of their past 19 matches and few expected Salford to cause them any headaches, even accounting for their improvement under new coach Matt Parish.
The players were given a deafening welcome by the appreciative supporters for their triumph in the Challenge Cup semi-final a week earlier.
The match was only four minutes old when fleet-footed Sam Tomkins opened the scoring with a typically brilliant piece of play.
After good approach work from Josh Charnley and Leuluai, he attacked at an angle and left Daniel Holdsworth clutching at air with a killer step.
Danny Williams drew the Reds level less than 10 minutes later, squeezing in at the corner beyond the desperate lunge of Brett Finch for the winger’s first try in Super League since 2006. Holdsworth’s conversion put the visitors 6-4 ahead.
But Wigan kept their cool and soon found their groove, taking a firm grip of the contest with two quickfire tries.
First, after marching down field on the back of thunderous charges of Lee Mossop, Ryan Hoffman and the exceptional Harrison Hansen, Finch’s pass sent Andy Coley through a gaping hole.
And then Charnley – one of the real heroes of Wigan’s Cup semi-final victory a week earlier – cut inside from Joel Tomkins’ pass to cross to touch down, and with Richards nailing both conversions it opened up a 10-point gap.
Former crowd-pleaser Paleaaesina was introduced from the bench for his first match at the DW Stadium since leaving the Warriors last year. And the human wrecking-ball went close from close range when Reds briefly ventured into their opponents’ half, but Wigan soaked up everything the Reds could muster before countering with a superb try.
Finch weaved through a scattered defence and, when he was finally collared, he had the composure to twist and offload for the supporting Sam Tomkins to race over for his second try in the 37th minute.
And then the England Test No.1 grabbed his hat-trick before the half-time break, latching onto Leuluai’s raking pass and leaving Salford for dead with a surging sprint to the line. Richards converted both tries to make it 28-6 at the break.
Mike McIlorum kept the scoreboard ticking over shortly after the restart, showing great strength to shrug off Lee Jewitt and cross for a try Richards bettered. At the other side, Sam Tomkins underlined his defensive abilities too, halting Stefan Ratchford’s probing break.
Wigan-born Ratchford was sin-binned minutes later for a late hit on Finch, and that penalty on the line allowed Liam Farrell to cross from Hock’s offload, the hard-working forward doing well to ground the ball in a knot of bodies.
Richards’ goal propelled the side to the 40-point mark with half-an-hour remaining, and with the game in the bag, Maguire decided to rest George Carmont and give Goulding a chance in the spotlight. The academy-product looked to have crowned his return with a try from Hoffman’s pass – after the Reds had scored through Gleeson – but a try was ruled out for a forward pass.
Sean O’Loughlin and Hansen both went close, sandwiching a try from Joel Tomkins from a fabulous team attack. Mossop was placed on report after Williams grabbed his second, but Wigan finished on top, Tomkins scoring just seconds after his selection as man of the match was announced.
“Wem-ber-ley”, the delighted fans chanted. They will be aiming for the perfect send-off to the capital – they host Bradford this Friday before attention turns to the Cup final.