SOMETIMES they win brilliantly; other times they just win.
Wigan secured their fourth straight victory last night to climb to the summit of the Super League ladder.
But they didn’t as much sweep to the top as they did stumble there, with a display that was far from polished.
Too many promising attacks became unravelled by spilled balls, and the champions had to come from behind at half-time to see off their plucky opponents.
A three-try salvo in an eight-minute spell early in the second-half – from Liam Farrell, George Carmont and Ryan Hoffman – added to Josh Charnley’s early double, and swung a 16-10 deficit into a 26-16 lead, and they held on to that scoreline to claim victory with a determined defensive stint.
There was plenty of purpose to Wigan’s display, but few purple patches, though in mitigation, this was their second game in six days and Michael Maguire was mindful of a game at Harlequins this Saturday – a hectic schedule in anyone’s book.
Last night’s match was a rearranged fixture from February, owing to Wigan’s involvement in the World Club Challenge.
When these two sides met last month, the champions threw away an 18-point lead to draw 22-22. But they won their next three games against heavyweight opposition – St Helens, Huddersfield and Leeds – and went into the match in good form, and with the added incentive of moving top of the ladder.
The Tigers, by contrast, had lost their last two and leaked more than a century of points in the process, and Terry Matterson – who announced just two days earlier this will be his last year at the Yorkshire battlers – was without seven first-team regulars, including ex-Warriors Richie Mathers and Danny Orr.
Maguire, though, was forced into late changes of his own, with Andy Coley (suspension) and Pat Richards (slight injury) joining Paul Prescott (hamstring) on the sidelines.
Those absences opened up opportunities for Gareth Hock, Darrell Goulding and Farrell, the latter pair starting the match after spells out the team.
Goulding – making his 100th appearance for his home-town club – went to within inches of opening the scoring in the third minute, but the ball bobbled over the dead-ball line before the winger could pounce. That proved only a temporary respite for the visitors, though, as Wigan attacked from the resulting drop-out and went 6-0 ahead when Charnley collected Paul Deacon’s angled kick.
The Tigers, it seemed, hadn’t done their homework – the same ploy opened the Warriors’ account against Leeds just five days earlier.
Deacon, handed the goal-kicking duties in place of Richards, added the conversion and – given Wigan’s ability to blow sides away early on – many may have predicted further tries to follow thick and fast.
But instead, it was Cas who struck next, as a penalty piggybacked them down field, and after Rangi Chase had poked and teased the line, the ball was sent right and ex-Warriors junior Stuart Jones used the slippery pitch to his advantage, sliding over and beyond the advancing Sam Tomkins. Joe Arundel missed the conversion, keeping Wigan ahead 6-4. A rare error by Sean O’Loughlin kept his side on the back-foot, and when referee Steve Ganson – Wigan’s saviour against Leeds, courtesy of his late, correct ‘no try’ ruling on Danny McGuire – penalised the home side again, it allowed the Tigers to edge 10-6 ahead in the 20th minute through a Richard Owen try in the corner.
Wigan’s cause wasn’t helped by Carmont limping off, but for a brief spell, they attacked with pace and aggression, and repeatedly targeted teen winger Greg Eden with their kicks. Eventually they reaped rewards for that pressure, when a looping pass from Deacon to Joel Tomkins provided them the position to put Charnley over for his second try on the half-hour.
Hock came off the bench for only his second match since returning from a two-year doping ban, but left minutes later, complaining to the bench of a groin injury.
Ganson charitably allowed John Davies to stay on the pitch for a high shot on Charnley, but Wigan were doing themselves no favours, either, with Joel Tomkins among the culprits when he spilled the ball deep inside his own half.
That turnover gifted Castleford with an attacking chance and it paid off, when Davies touched down the ball in the 37th minute. Video referee Phil Bentham awarded the try amid muted protests from some fans that Dean Widders had dislodged the ball from Sam Tomkins’ grasp by tripping over him. Arundel’s goal put the Tigers 16-10 ahead at the break after a Chase drop-goal attempt sailed wide.
Like against Leeds a few days earlier, Wigan were quick out of the blocks in the second-half to come from behind and take control.
This time they had to wait until the 49th minute to begin scoring blitz.
Jeff Lima limped off the pitch and Brett Finch played on despite suffering a heavy knock, but the return of Carmont lifted the crowd – and the team – with Deacon providing the short-pass for Farrell to cross from short-range, a la Good Friday without the drama.
Deacon’s goal drew the scores level.
With more than half-an-hour remaining, Maguire’s side had plenty of time to redeem their woeful first-half.
They showed signs of their clinical best with a sweeping move which saw Joel Tomkins power through two defenders and offload to Carmont, opening up a 20-16 lead.
And it got even better for the Warriors moments later, when Ryan Hoffman charged on to Finch’s delightful cut-out pass and over for a converted try which extended their advantage to 10-points.
Tigers took advantage of Joel Tomkins’ spill to trouble the line – but Brett Ferres only succeeding in grounding the ball on Chris Tuson’s thigh – and Carmont countered from deep, but another great chance slipped from their fingers. Or, more precisely, Sam Tomkins’ fingers.
Thomas Leuluai had a chance to put the game to bed, but couldn’t ground the ball over the line, but Wigan fended off the Tigers’ late rally to claim the win.