WIGAN fell to their heaviest defeat under Michael Maguire’s watch last night as they were torn apart by a ruthless Catalan.
The Warriors simply had no match for the energy, enterprise and power of a Dragons team inspired by the mercurial half-back Scott Dureau.
It marked the Dragons’ second major scalp in five days following their 22-20 victory over Warrington. Yet while they were celebrating, the Wigan fans were only concerned with one thing – the hapless performance of the Super League champions.
They struggled to contain Catalan’s adventure and cavalier attacks, while their own attacks were littered with errors and with each dropped pass their confidence melted away.
The spirit that had seen them claim a well-deserved draw against Leeds was, for the most part, unaccounted for last night. The defensive venom that has become their hallmark under Maguire was missing; so too was their stylish attack.
Pat Richards’ first game of the season – against the team in which he scored a record 38-points last season – was supposed to be a reason to celebrate.
But his former Parramatta team-mate Trent Robinson, the Dragons coach, obviously hadn’t read the script as they out-scored the home side eight tries to five to condemn Wigan to a third successive game without a victory.
The return of Richards and the suspension of prop Jeff Lima prompted a reshuffle of the ranks, with Amos Roberts and Liam Farrell dropped from the team and Stefan Marsh and Josh Charnley recalled.
Joel Tomkins switched from centre to second-row – Maguire opting for Marsh in the starting line-up – and Australian Brett Finch was restored to the stand-off berth.
In the opposition ranks influential half-back Dureau started the game after recovering from a bad knock at Warrington five days earlier, winger Cyril Stacul took over the full-back duties from the injured Clint Greenshields and overseas duo Damien Blanch and Setaimata Sa were recalled.
Maguire said before kick-off that Calalan’s flamboyant attack posed a real threat; it wasn’t pre-match rhetoric.
By half-time his side had leaked a staggering 30 points in a one-sided humiliation in front of their own fans.
Touchdowns by Sam Tomkins and Mike McIlorum book-ended a slick five-try display from a French outfit expertly marshalled by Dureau.
Typically, Wigan were quick out of the blocks.
An early penalty – when Paul Prescott had the ball stripped from his grasp – eased Wigan down field, Thomas Leuluai swung the ball to the right for Sam Tomkins to burst through the line, angle away from the covering defence and over for his third try of the season.
Richards stepped up to convert from the sidelines – his first involvement in the garme – but drifted his attempt wide.
And that was as good as it got for Wigan for 35 minutes, as the visiting outfit dismantled the usually water-tight defence with a classy show.
Former Newcastle Knights half-back Dureau launched a crossfield kick that Darrell Goulding couldn’t defuse, and Frederic Vaccari was on hand to collect the loose ball and touch down for their first try.
Dureau then hit his first of five first-half goals.
And they extended their lead in the 10th minute when Steve Menzies weaved through a scattered line from close-range to make it 12-4 in their favour.
Things went from bad to worse when the Dragons stormed downfield and crossed for their third try through prop Remi Casty, although captain Gregory Mounis deserved the praise for cutting through the defence when Ryan Hoffman slipped.
Wigan struggled to contain Catalan’s cavalier attacks, and when Hoffman spilled a rare attack, the visitors powered ahead when a long ball unleashed Blanch.
Sam Tomkins tracked him back, but the former Wakefield flyer threw the ball infield and Dureau couldn’t believe his luck when Mike McIlorum conceded defeat in the race for the ball. The half-back’s conversion made it 24-4.
Three of the Dragons’ four tries came on the back of penalties from James Child, which gifted them good attacking positions, but in fairness to the official the penalty count at half-time was 4-4.
The Warriors had their own chances to score, but their attacks were far too easily-read and broke down far too often, through dropped passes and forward passes.
The Dragons, by contrast, executed their plays with perfect precision on the back of Dureau’s impeccable kicks. They grabbed a fifth try just before half-time when a crisp left-to-right passing move was finished by the evergreen Menzies, who at 37 is older than both of last night’s coaches.
Wigan patched-up their attack sufficiently enough to reply before half-time, as McIlorum shuffled over from close range for a try, Richards had no trouble converting.
Trailing by 20, presumably Maguire urged his players to keep hold of the ball in the second-half.
But from their first attack, Joel Tomkins lost possession in a one-on-one tackle, Shane Millard scooped up the loose ball and unselfishly sent Vaccarri over for his second try to make it 34-10. Dureau missed his first conversion of the night, but minutes later added a penalty when Chris Tuson was ruled offside, opening up a 26-point lead.
And when Leuluai’s pass was plucked from the air by Dureau and the scrum-half sprinted over for his second try before the hour-mark, many fans began heading for the exit doors.
That score beat the previous heaviest defeat under Maguire – the 38 points conceded against Harlequins last season – and Blanch’s try swelled their tally out to 46 points.
The fans who remained at least saw Carmont go over, after good approach play for Sam Tomkins and Richards, and then O’Loughlin touched down Sam Tomkins’ weighted grubber – tries converted by Richards – but it proved scant consolation.
Marsh added a late, scrappy try to reduce the gap even further after a Dureau drop-goal, but the late flurry did not deceive – Wigan were well outplayed on a thoroughly miserable evening, and the players left the field to muted applause.
Last night’s loss was the third in four games at the DW Stadium this year – including the World Club Challenge – and Maguire knows their performances will need to improve rapidly and considerably before they are next at home: to St Helens, on Good Friday.