WIGAN marched to joint-top of the Super League ladder – for a day at least – with a comfortable victory at Crusaders in Wrexham yesterday afternoon.
The win moves them level with Huddersfield and Warrington on 18 points, although St Helens will move one-point clear if they overcome Hull FC this evening.
Five tries in the opening half – all masterfully converted in whirling winds by Pat Richards – opened up a 30-0 lead.
And though they took their foot off the gas in the second-half, when each side ran in three tries, they always appeared in control and the result was never in doubt.
The victory crowned a successful Easter period for Michael Maguire’s men, during which time they have netted a maximum eight points from their four fixtures in a hectic two week schedule.
And it is unlikely that this cherry and white juggernaut will be stopped in the home games against lowly opposition – Barrow (Cup), Harlequins and Hull KR – this month, certainly if the manner of yesterday’s win was to go from.
Crusaders simply had to answer to their opponents’ crisp attacks and pace. And while Maguire will be concerned at the way his side leaked 16 points in the final 25 minute, there was much, much more to enjoy.
Their forwards carried out their roles manfully, Sam Tomkins was electric and wingers Josh Charnley and Pat Richards continued their rich scoring form.
As expected, Chris Tuson came into the side to replace injured Harrison Hansen. And there was also one late change, with Darrell Goulding earning a recall when Joel Tomkins suffered a calf strain in training. Goulding was dropped after Wigan’s shock 37-28 loss to Catalan last month and missed the last three matches, during which time Maguire’s men have won three games in rapid succession against Hull KR, St Helens and Wakefield.
With three wins from four meetings since Crusaders’ introduction to Super League, they went into the Racecourse Ground encounter with history on their side. And from the minute Lloyd White spilled the ball under intense pressure from Wigan’s aggressive defence, the writing was on the wall.
Sam Tomkins went close with a weaving run, before they opened their account when Richards collected Brett Finch’s chip to the corner. Richards masterfully added the touchline conversion to make it 6-0 – his first of seven successful goals from as many attempts.
The game lulled for a spell and Wigan’s errors offered Crusaders a path back into the contest, but they let chances on the visitors’ line slip through their fingers with the erratic Michael Witt guilty of bombing at least two decent chances.
The Wigan machine eventually clicked into life, and in the 20th minute a cascading move from the left finished with Sam Tomkins sending Charnley sprinting over in the corner for his 9th try of the campaign.
With Lee Mossop and Sean O’Loughlin punching gaping holes in the Crusaders defence with their shuddering charges, Maguire’s side powered ahead in the 25th minute.
Sam Tomkins received the ball on the left and cut back inside on a waltzing dart to the line.
And it got even better for the droves of traveling fans when, from the kick-off, they added their fourth try.
Jeff Lima, fresh on from the bench, was unleashed through a hapless defence by a sublime pass from fellow prop Paul Prescott, and showed the poise of a half-back to send Thomas Leuluai clear under the sticks.
Crusaders had their moments but their attacks were too predictable to break down the champions’ well-oiled defence. And with Richards’ soaring touchline finders allowing them to capitalise on every penalty, they grabbed a fifth try before the break when Finch cut through a scattered line to make it 30-0.
The half-time break did little to break the visitors’ momentum, Leuluai darting down the blindside to put Charnley over for his second try in the 42nd minute to make it 36-0.
But just like the first-half, errors crept into Wigan’s game and this time the home side took full advantage through a try from Gareth Thomas – three days after he was a guest at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the fightback is on,” the ground announcer declared, tongue firmly in cheek.
But after Mike McIlorum cut through for a try to make it 42-4, the home side added a quickfire double to close the scoreline to 42-16.
First, Prescott’s spill in the middle of the field allowed Witt to go over – after good work by Tony Martin – and then Stuart Reardon finished off Thomas’ break.
But Tomkins ensured Wigan had the final say with a trademark determined run that earned him his second try, and capped a fine individual display.
With Richards taking a break from kicking duty, captain O’Loughlin stepped up and booted the conversion.