Five things we learned from Wigan’s 50-34 defeat at Leigh...
1. And the hits just keep on coming.
None of the Wigan players on Thursday night were born the last time Leigh beat their borough rivals in a competitive match, back in 1984.
In isolation, surprise losses can be stomached, but this defeat stretched the Warriors’ winless run in Super League to seven games - their worst in more than a decade.
They remain sixth in the table on 16 points - but it’s worth noting two of the sides below them, St Helens (15) and Huddersfield (13), have played two games less. Though it would seem unlikely, they will be in danger of slipping into the bottom-four before the season splits for the Super-8s phase after round 23 if they don’t begin picking up points. Their remaining league fixtures are against Huddersfield (a), Widnes (h), Catalans (a), Warrington (h) and Leeds (h).
Of course, history has made fools of people who have rushed to press the panic button at Wigan, and Shaun Wane urged people to judge them at the end of the campaign. Certainly, his squad will soon be better - but that doesn’t hide the fact the team which took to the field should not be conceding 50 points at Leigh.
2. Goal-kicking continues to be an issue.
Wigan’s success ratio is the lowest in Super League this season and, in this game, there was a point when they had outscored Leigh four tries to three but still trailed 20-18 on the scoreboard.
George Williams missed with his first two attempts and passed the cone to Liam Marshall, who finished with three from five.
Persistence, patience and hard-work seems to be the only solution because Wane has few other options; his best goal-kicker, Jake Shorrocks, is out for the year (and is third-choice halfback), along with Morgan Escare. Sam Powell has three goals from four attempts this year and, though he’s available next week, only plays half a match as interchange hooker. While this is an issue which needs addressing, it should not overshadow...
3. Wigan’s leaky defence.
At times, it was embarrassingly soft, yet again.
After Wigan cut the margin to two-points, Leigh wrapped up the win by scoring three tries in 10 minutes ALL from dummy-half darts close to the line - a repeat-sin branded “unacceptable” by Wane afterwards.
Leigh often started their sets in better position - Thomas Leuluai had an off-day with his clearing kicks - and the home forwards bullied and battered the Warriors pack far too often.
The prospect of England forwards Liam Farrell, John Bateman and Sean O’Loughlin returning soon is reassuring... another prop to throw into the mix would be welcomed. Such a shame Ben Flower and, to a slightly-lesser extent, Tony Clubb are missing.
Yet, remarkably, for all the disappointment, there was one over-riding positive...
4. Their free-scoring attack.
Incredibly, Wigan have scored 19 tries spread evenly over the last three games - and lost them all!
If the Warriors score 34-points, you would expect them to win, right?
They rattled up seven tries to Leigh’s eight, though two were in the final three minutes when the home side may have eased off.
Most encouragingly, it was great to see centre Oliver Gildart back on the pitch after a three-month lay-off. The 20-year-old showed his class to send Marshall over for his 18th try of the campaign, and later for Williams’ try, and crossed himself early in the second-half before being rested. Joe Burgess also showed some quality attacking touches.
Wigan have played six games in the last 26 days, and Wane will be thankful he has more than a week to prepare his side for next Saturday’s Challenge Cup tie against Warrington, another desperate side.
5. A final word on Leigh.
They were always going to be fired-up for this one, and their enthusiasm was matched by their composure, confidence and aggression. Ben Reynolds produced a master-class with the boot, nailing a perfect nine goals - eight conversions and a penalty - from as many attempts. And it was fitting two ex-Wigan forwards registered milestones against the club where they spent their early careers; Harrison Hansen made his 350th career appearance, while Danny Tickle passed the 2,500-points mark. Wigan’s scalp has been added to those of Hull FC, St Helens, Warrington and Huddersfield. This win lifted the Centurions off the bottom of the table, and while they face an uphill struggle to get out of the bottom-four before the season splits, they have given themselves a chance...