SHAUN Wane’s first competitive match as head coach ended in defeat after his team went down 20-16 against a Huddersfield team lacking seven senior first-team players.
Once the dust had settled, the Warriors lamented the number of times they squandered possession against enthusiastic opponents.
They made ground with ease at times, but far too often let the Giants off the hook with plays that didn’t come off, or passes that wouldn’t stick.
Two tries by Giants prop Larne Patrick - sandwiching a touchdown from Liam Farrell after a move he started - put the visitors 20-12 up leading into the final quarter.
Wigan rallied frantically and Sean O’Loughlin earned his side a lifeline when he burrowed over from short-range in the 74th minute, closing the gap to four points. But in the final few minutes, the Warriors never had the composure or attacking edge to unlock Huddersfield’s defence and claim a match-winning try.
Earlier, a try by ex-Warrior Lee Gilmour was cancelled out by Sam Tomkins as Brough’s penalty before the break gave the visitors an 8-6 advantage at half-time.
Huddersfield beat the Warriors 30-18 in a friendly on this ground a few weeks earlier. But that was against a youthful Wigan side missing several key players, and the Super League-starved, bumper home crowd who braved the cold snap yesterday afternoon expected a different story.
It didn’t materialise that way.
Huddersfield put chances on a platter early on, with Eden running into touch and Tommy Lee throwing the ball away minutes later. But Harrison Hansen and Gareth Hock were both guilty of spilling possession as the home side struggled to get into their attacking rhythm.
Huddersfield slowly improved, and midway through the first quarter, Gilmour angled onto a pass from makeshift stand-off Simon Grix, and beat Tomkins to the line. Brough made no mistake with the conversion.
That try served notice that for all their injury woes, they meant business.
Epalahame Lauaki and Ben Flower came off the bench for their competitive bows, and pounded the Giants’ line with useful drives. Leuluai, who had caught the eye with a string of stinging tackles, tried his best to spark his team into action, but two further errors - a spill by McIlorum and a penalty by Finch - unravelled their good work.
In the 32nd minute, they finally troubled the scoreboard when Tomkins raced through an opening, and showed enough composure and strength to round Eden on the line and touch down. RIchards made no mistake with the conversion to level the encounter.
But before the break, Finch was penalised for holding down and Brough’s goal handed the visitors a slender two-point advantage.
An impressive defensive stint - led by the tireless Flower - forced the Giants into turning over the ball inside their own half. But yet again, Wigan undid their hard work, Leuluai this time spilling from the second tackle.
Patrick thundered over from close-range, and Brough’s conversion put the visitors 14-6 ahead. Scrum-half Brough frequently kept Wigan pegged back with his impeccable range of kicks. The home side, by contrast, rarely troubled their opponents with their limited kicking option - so much so that there was an ironic cheer when McIlorum turned full-back Eden with a well-measured punt from dummy-half.
Trailing by eight, WIgan desperately hunted points, and when Farrell stormed through an opening it put them into a solid position to mount a serious attacking raid. One set later, and it was Farrell who fittingly finished off a short passing exchange, rushing through an opening close to the uprights. Richards’ successful conversion dragged the margin back to two points.
But the feelgood factor disappeared as quickly as it had arrived, as Huddersfield roared back to re-establish an eight-point lead. Patrick attacked a scattered defence down the middle, slicing beyond O’Loughlin’s desperate grasp and rounding Tomkins to grab his second try in eight minutes.
O’Loughlin marshalled their revival, sending the ball left and then right as Carmont and Charnley went close. Tomkins injected himself into the attack with real venom, and with more polish Wigan could easily have crossed for vital tries.