Five talking points from Wigan’s 27-10 loss to Castleford...
1. Wigan are certainly doing it tough right now. That was their fourth game without a win, following a draw with Huddersfield and close losses to Hull FC and Leeds. Shaun Wane has repeatedly refused to use injuries as an excuse, but with a full-complement of backs out, as well as international forwards Sean O’Loughlin, John Bateman and Micky McIlorum, they are depleted. And it isn’t just about personnel, but the combinations; young wingers Tom Davies and Liam Marshall did great dealing with the kicks, but there are too many fringe players in at once, and the attacks didn’t have the same fluidity as they had earlier this year when their first-choice backline raced up the points in a five-game winning start.
2. That said, there were too many of the experienced players who had an off-day against Castleford. The Tigers are good enough without having tries gifted to them. Two of the Tigers’ four tries were down to defensive lapses, their last score an intercept when Wigan - briefly - saw a glimmer of hope with the scoreline at 20-10. Taulima Tautai was left flapping for two of Castleford’s tries - but was the only forward who really imposed himself with the ball in hand – and Morgan Escare scored all their points, but was not at his best. Wigan were beaten and, for the first time this year, they were well-beaten.
3. With an England Test in a month’s time, the ‘duel’ between Luke Gale and George Williams provided an interesting subplot to the game. They didn’t go head-to-head - both operate on the left for their side. Williams’ brilliant footwork earned him two tries against Leeds a week ago but he couldn’t unlock the Cas’ defence, and his attacking short-kicks were gobbled up. He made a telling but less-flashy contribution for Wigan’s first try - an accurate, long bullet-pass from dummy-half when Sam Powell was off injured. Gale played well, controlled the match, kicked exceptionally and scored one of their four tries. These two sides meet again at the end of this month, the day before the England internationals fly out to Sydney – presumably, many fans would like to see both Gale and Williams on the plane.
4. Bookmakers responded to the win by installing Castleford as the new favourites to win the Grand Final in October. There are a lot of games to be played until then and they are inexperienced in the play-offs cauldron, but the Tigers have certainly shaken-up the trophy-hunt with seven wins from eight games. With a powerful bench, they have shown their flamboyance this season, but Daryl Powell seemed more satisfied with their defence as they limited Wigan to just two tries - the only side to do that this season.
5. Wigan are back at the DW Stadium next Friday – for the visit of St Helens. The build-up to the derby may take a new complexion following this result – the Warriors are desperate to get back to winning ways, Shaun Wane, who has a perfect Good Friday record, is hoping Sean O’Loughlin and Anthony Gelling will be fit to return; Sam Powell took a whack to his ribs, but is expected to play. Hooker Micky McIlorum is also keen to return from his 14-month lay-off - how good would it be seeing the tough No.9 ripping into Saints in front of a bumper crowd?