Tom McCooey looks at five talking points from Wigan’s defeat to Leeds on Friday.
1. Talk about stalling on the grid.
After a gripping first hour or so on Friday, Wigan simply coasted to a halt as Leeds ran in four second-half tries to run away with the game.
Warriors needed the points pretty desperately on two fronts; to get their Super 8s campaign off the mark in round one and to keep in touch with the teams above them.
Instead Wigan have dropped to eighth on the league ladder and slipped a further point behind fourth place.
On the subject of the 8s, the crowd at Headingley will also no doubt renew discussion about fans’ appetite for the concept. Sparse sections of the stadium got people talking about games being announced just over a week in advance and comparing the 17,030 who watched this fixture in March with 13,579 this weekend will fuel those debates.
2. But teams have recovered from slow starts before…
Only this isn’t a slow start - it’s a stuttering season.
While the Super 8s - Super League’s eight team, seven game run into the play-offs - is only a round in, the season is 24 rounds old.
For various reasons, some beyond their control, Wigan have struggled for consistency this term, resulting in their disappointing league position.
Another way of looking at it is that this season is just one of those in the cycle for Wigan, a bit like with Leeds last year. They happen in sport from time to time, and while some will argue the quality of rugby on offer across Super League is lower this year, you can’t argue the league has not been more competitive - not necessarily as a result. But a more competitive league means you’re going to have to witness more losses.
The World Club Challenge win and Challenge Cup run show what the side is capable of on their day, but time is running out quickly if they are to also defend their title.
3. Tom Davies, though…
The bright spot during what became a bad evening.
We already know the 20-year-old can shift. We’ve seen enough now to know the next Josh Charnley has arrived.
His two tries in the first half at Headingley also demonstrated different areas of his attacking arsenal. The first required a touch of bravery and intelligence by reading a slick play and diving for the line, while his second was much more Martin Offiah. His dart to the line from 90 metres out was as exciting as any other.
This area of Wigan’s game had been sorted for a few weeks - and even before that it was mainly kick defence springing leaks rather than the Warriors being broken down.
But a different problem arose on Friday, and one which will worry some.
Some of Leeds’ tries were a result of poor defensive reads, and more disappointingly others were a result of soft (by Super League players’ standards) tackling.
It’s easy to forget we had an entertaining game on our hands until the midway point of the second half, and it’s also worth noting defenses can drop with heads when the scoreboard runs away. Still, the travelling supporters who paid for tickets won’t be comforted by any of that, and coach Shaun Wane was right to label the performance as ‘poor’.
5. Overuse of the video referee is more than a niggle now.
It’s not about the calls - decisions we disagree with happen - but it is about waiting for decisions on every other try taking the focus away from what are often great plays.
Ben Thaler called on the video referee four times during a game which required him to make 10 decisions on whether tries had been scored - with two calls of ‘no try’ being given.
We all want decisions to be correct (and Liam Farrell’s early ‘no try’, given by the video will still split opinion) but the length of time being taken over the calls is exasperating.
Tom Davies’ brilliant 90-metre sprint to the line was spoiled by a video ref call to see if he had been in touch - and this was in front of a touch judge - while Ashton Golding’s try from a Ryan Hall kick was checked despite looking like a smooth play.