CHAMPIONS Wigan shattered the mantra that there are ‘no easy games in Super League’ last night with a nine-try demotion of hapless Harlequins.
Thomas Leuluai, Sam Tomkins and Pat Richards led the rampage with two tries each, while the latter’s perfect record of nine goals from as many attempts saw him finish with a 26-point personal haul.
It was the Warriors’ sixth triumph in succession and their biggest winning margin of the Super League campaign.
And it ensured they kept pace with Warrington at the top of the ladder following their comfortable victory over Castleford, down the road at the Halliwell-Jones.
Most of the damage was inflicted in the first half-an-hour as they piled on the points to put the result beyond doubt.
As clinical and impressive as Wigan were, their opponents were shambolic, and the plucky part-timers of Barrow must have taken some satisfaction from knowing they were almost as efficient at limiting the Super League champions’ scoring a week ago than Harlequins were last night.
The Warriors were 42-0 ahead at the end of the first-half and though they faded in the second, their low-error performance and aggressive defence limited Quins to a solitary try from Mark Calderwood.
The match marked a special evening for teenage forward Jack Hughes, who made his Super League debut just a week after his first-team bow in the Challenge Cup.
Michael Maguire made just one change to the side that eased past Barrow 52-0, Lee Mossop returning from injury in place of prop Paul Prescott.
Harlequins won the corresponding fixture 38-26 last year but – having gone eight games without a win – no one expected lightening to strike twice.
Their side included ex-Wigan backs Chris Melling and Mark Calderwood, as well as on-loan Karl Pryce at centre.
If last night’s game presented Pryce with a chance to press his claims for a recall in front of Maguire, the lumbering centre failed.
But at least he could take comfort from knowing he was not the only Quins player who embarrassed himself.
From the moment full-back Jamie O’Callaghan spilled a regulation kick at the end of Wigan’s first set, there was a feeling that it wasn’t going to be their night.
One scrum, two drives and three passes later, Richards was cantering over the tryline to open the home side’s account.
His masterful touchline conversion put them 6-0 ahead in the third minute.
Pryce’s failed intercept gifted his parent club a repeat set, allowing them to double that lead minutes later when Leuluai floated a short pass for the imposing Ryan Hoffman to stampede through a gap close to the line.
And by the 10-minute mark, Wigan had established an unassailable 18-point lead after evergreen centre George Carmont plucked Luke Gale’s suicidal long pass from the air and raced home from the halfway mark.
Rather than ease off, Maguire’s charges instead eased through the gears with a fourth try from the kick-off.
A midfield exchange of passes opened a gap for Sam Tomkins to race through from inside his half, and Richards’ impeccable goal-kicking kept the scoreboard ticking over.
Wigan played with real urgency and unlocked Quins’ defence easily with the speed, precision and range of their passes.
The visiting side’s list of sins was extensive and, against such frail opposition, Wigan were always going to thrive as they reached the 30-point mark inside the opening quarter.
Chad Randall spilled the ball deep inside his own half, and from the next set Leuluai jinked through a congested defence and plunged the ball on the whitewash.
The Kiwi scrum-half underlined his class minutes later, stepping through the cover and racing over to make it 36-0.
Leuluai’s double took him to 50 tries with the club – a milestone matched by Sam Tomkins earlier in the game.
Lee Mossop and the industrious Mike McIlorum were providing plenty of the muscle up front.
And, on the back of such dominance, the impressive Sean O’Loughlin was the next to cross the whitewash, supporting Hoffman’s break from deep to cross unopposed – ignoring Sam Tomkins’ cheeky plea for the ball as he did so!
Hughes and Chris Tuson came on for O’Loughlin and Mossop, and Quins kept hold of the ball long enough to march close to Warriors’ line, without really troubling it.
But Wigan finished the strongest as O’Loughlin – back on for Carmont, a change which prompted Hoffman to drop in at centre – chased Leuluai’s teasing grubber, but his stab-on went into touch.
The trill of James Child’s whistle interrupted the flow of the early second-half action, but the Warriors soon reaffirmed their dominance and powered further ahead in the 53rd minute.
Paul Deacon followed up his own kick and managed to poke the ball over the tryline line for Sam Tomkins to dive on to – the slippery No.1 earning laughter as well as applause for mimicking Child as he pointed to the spot and awarded the try.
Quins countered briefly but their clunky attacks rarely posed problems for opponents desperate to defend their line.
O’Loughlin and Charnley both went close before Melling denied Sam Tomkins as he chased Richards’ angled grubber.
A brief spell of pressure at least spared Quins the indignity of being nilled when Calderwood touched down in the corner, but Richards put this seal on the landslide win with a last-minute try – which he expertly converted from the sidelines.