Five things we learned from Wigan’s 31-16 defeat against Salford...
1. Shaun Wane was quite possibly the most content he had ever been after a defeat.
“I’m the worst loser in the world, but I’m okay,” he said.
Salford scored three tries in a dominant first-half and two more within seven minutes of the restart to take a 28-0 lead. At that point, Wigan’s young, disjointed side looked destined for another landslide loss following the 54-4 mauling at Castleford. But they dug deep to score three tries, ‘win’ the second-half and finish the game with their pride intact.
2. Earlier this week, it was joked Wane had spilled a drink down Lady Luck’s dress. It must have been an expensive dress, because she’s still angry.
Wigan went into the game with at least a dozen ‘starters’ missing. Liam Marshall, who only debuted two months ago, was the second most-experienced three-quarter!
But the real pinch was at halfback/hooker, with Thomas Leuluai, George Williams, Jake Shorrocks and Micky McIlorum - as well as the senior figures who can fill those spots, Sean O’Loughlin, Morgan Escare and Sam Tomkins - all ruled out through injury, suspension or Test duty.
And their halfback woes deepened as the game unravelled.
Sam Powell started at stand-off, and then went off injured with an ankle problem, to be replaced by utility Nick Gregson - who was taken to hospital with a suspected broken jaw! It meant Wigan finished the game with only one recognised half on the pitch... 19-year-old Josh Woods, who was on debut and isn’t yet a part of Wane’s senior squad!
Woods had at least faced Super League opposition before - beating Huddersfield in the Cup while playing for Swinton - and showed some nice touches.
3. Josh Ganson, on home debut, did a fine job playing 80 minutes at hooker.
He settled as the game went on, and began testing the Salford defence... on the pitch where, famously, his ex-referee dad Steve sent off Adrian Morley 12 seconds into a Test match in 2003.
And it was good to see Lewis Tierney back in a Wigan shirt. He overcame a shaky start to inject some zip into the attack, and seems likely to hold the full-back role at least until Sam Tomkins’ return.
4. Salford, though, were deserved winners - their first in Wigan in 20 years.
Their forwards were dominant, creating the space and time for halves Michael Dobson and Robert Lui to lay on sharp attacks. Lui, in particular, showed what a classy operator he is, and his combination with the imposing Ben Murdoch-Masila on the right edge caused some problems.
Salford, who also had a few absences including strike three-quarters Justin Carney and Junior Sa’u, have long been one of the best teams to watch, without being one of the best teams. Now, they have added quality and consistency to their displays.
They are second in the ladder and Super League is richer for having another club in the mix.
5. Wigan take a break from Super League next week, travelling to face Swinton in the Challenge Cup.
The two clubs have a dual-registration agreement - it was suggested to Wane in the press conference he may need to borrow some of their players!
The Lions, remember, knocked Huddersfield out of the Cup at the last stage and with many Wiganers in their ranks, will not lack motivation.
Wane will have hooker Micky McIlorum back from suspension and Sean O’Loughlin available following England duty. He will be hoping injuries to Sam Powell and Nick Gregson aren’t serious, otherwise he will have a big halfback selection dilemma - Josh Woods is Cup-tied, having played for Swinton on dual-registration in the last tound.
Of the injured players, George Williams is expected to be two weeks away, with John Bateman, Sam Tomkins and Thomas Leuluai expected to be filtered back into the side next month.