SHAUN Wane was concerned the break in the season for the England-Exiles game may disrupt Wigan’s momentum.
But it will take much more than a week off to derail this Wigan juggernaut! No Jeff Lima? No problem. No Thomas Leuluai? No sweat.
Wane just drafted in more reinforcements to help the Warriors storm to their 13th straight victory, and re-establish a three point lead at the top of the Super League ladder.
Five tries in the opening half saw them open up a comfortable 28-12 lead at the break. And the onslaught continued after the break, with five unanswered touchdowns, including two from Josh Charnley which saw him complete his hat-trick, and extend his lead at the top of the Super League try-scoring charts to 25.
This was Wigan 10th league win in succession, an achievement not reached since Kiwi Frank Endacott – watching from the directors’ box – was in charge in 2000. Whisper it quietly, but Wigan reached the Grand Final that season and on this kind of form, who would bet against them reaching Old Trafford this October?
Even with so many players missing through injury, there were better odds of Widnes winning than of Wane accepting a below-par performance. Widnes pulled off a shock 37-36 victory over Wigan earlier this season, but no-one expected them to do the same last night.
Even when the Warriors’ ranks were further depleted by the withdrawals of Chris Tuson and Lima, who joined Ben Flower, Leuluai, Harrison Hansen, Gil Dudson and Stuart Fielden on the sidelines.
On the plus side, prop Paul Prescott returned from injury – his first match in more than a month – and he joined Welsh teenager Rhodri Lloyd, who debuted against Leeds last month, on an inexperienced bench.
Wane had the option of recalling Joe Mellor from his loan spell at Widnes, after Leuluai was injured in the Exiles match against England.
Instead, he switched Sean O’Loughlin to the playmaker role and allowed Mellor to play against his parent club. Widnes must feel like a home from home for the young half-back – ex-Warriors Cameron Phelps, Ben Cross, Davie Allen, Ben Davies and Shaun Briscoe were in the travelling line-up, with former favourites Denis Betts and Mick Cassidy on the staff.
Wigan were playing their first home game since the Challenge Cup quarter-final victory against St Helens on May 12, and they seemed keen to put on a show for their army of followers, roaring into a 4-0 lead early on.
Passes involving O’Loughlin and Liam Farrell found space on the right, where Patrick ah Van had wedged in, allowing Josh Charnley to stroll over for his 23rd try in Super League this year.
And minutes later, Mike McIlorum took advantage of slack marker defence, swatting off Chris Dean’s weak tackle to cross. Charnley made no mistake with the conversion to open up a 10-lead. McIlorum was at his probing best at dummy-half, enhancing his England claims, while Finch, O’Loughlin and youngster Lloyd made fabulous contributions in a slick display.
Widnes’ indiscipline continued to invite Wigan into their half, and another cascading attack to the left saw George Carmont arc beyond the clutches of Paddy Flynn to crash over. Charnley nailed the conversion, and 16 points up after as many minutes, fans could have been forgiven the predicting a cricket score.
But a Charnley knock-on and lapse in concentration allowed the Vikings to get on the scoresheet, Australian prop Cross charging onto a short pass to register for his second-ever top-flight try. Denis Betts’ men would have scored again, but for a try-saving tackle by Jack Hughes which halted Mellor inches from the line.
Hughes blotted his copybook minutes later, however, spilling Gareth Hock’s offload deep in their own half to keep them on the back-foot. But good defending and sloppy Widnes handling ensured it wasn’t long before Wane’s men were back on the attack.
With Lloyd on for his home debut, they punched down field, softening the Widnes defence with pace and panache, allowing Paul Prescott to rumble over for his second touchdown of the year. Charnley’s goal reinstated their 16-point advantage. Before the break they pounced again, punishing Widnes’ awful ball control to power into a 28-6 lead as Anthony Gelling squeezed over in the corner.
The Vikings, though, refused to let their heads drop and managed to grab their second on the stroke of half-time when Mellor plucked Finch’s mis-directed pass from the air, and raced home. Ah Van’s conversion make it 28-12.
Brett Finch, orchestrating proceedings from scrum-half, benefited from some industrious go-forward from McIlorum and Prescott to extend their advantage early into the restart.
Then Charnley grabbed his second of the evening to make it 38-12. He completed his hat-trick in stunning fashion, as he latched onto Sam Tomkins’ teasing kick in the in-goal – when it appeared Briscoe had the ball covered. He nailed the conversion, his sixth from eight attempts, to swell the lead to 44-12.
Finch dived over for his second to ensure they saw in the half-century of points, and in the final seconds, Sam Tomkins got in on the act.