Hull FC 20 Wigan Warriors 10: Five things we learned
Five things we learned from Wigan's 20-10 quarter-final defeat against Hull FC...
1. "Adrian Lam s outfit were dominated from start to finish, showing little of the quality they have displayed (recently) against opponents who played the miserable conditions much better, frequently pegging Wigan back with their accurate kicking..."
Fitting words? They were written by this reporter last October when Wigan were knocked out of the Challenge Cup by Leeds Rhinos.
This was only Wigan's second defeat since that 26-12 loss - added to the Grand Final - but there were similarities to their previous Cup exit match, not least the fact in both cases, nobody saw the poor performance coming.
Their list of sins was long, but top of the list was...
When Zak Hardaker - a shining light this year - kicks out twice on the full and drops a regulation catch, you know it's not your day. One of his two missed goal attempts also fell into the 'kickable' bracket. Which is not to pin the loss on any individual, only to show that even the most dependable of stars had off-days.
Bevan French, Sam Powell, Liam Farrell and Willie Isa also made mistakes they won't be happy with, while young prop Liam Byrne had a day to forget.
There were far more spills than thrills, frustrating passages and niggly, needless penalties. And yet...
3. When Wigan lose they are rarely blown away and whether they deserved it or not, they were in this game until the death.
Trailing 16-10 with a minute to go, with each side posting two tries, they had a desperate chance to send the match into golden point in the final few seconds - only for Willie Isa to spill the ball, and Adam Swift to go over from long range and finally kill the game off.
It was a nervy and exciting end to a game which was more often than not one for the purists. The fact Hull's two-try hero was a front-rower - and a very good one - said a lot about the style of the game. And so...
4. The club's wait for Challenge Cup success goes on.
Google 'Wigan', 'Challenge Cup' and 'eight years' and there are no shortage of tales from their glorious run from 1988 to '95. Whisper it quietly, but it's now been eight years since the Warriors last lifted the famous old trophy - in 2013 - and they have returned to Wembley just once since, losing to Hull in '17.
Of course, Lam has only been in charge since '19 and he will now be hoping his side can respond in the same manner as last year's Cup exit, when they found another level and soared to the Grand Final.
They now have a long turnaround before their next game, to Super League newcomers Leigh on May 17 - in front of a limited crowd at the Sports Village. By then, Thomas Leuluai and Oliver Gildart may be in the mix, and mentioning players returning from injury...
5. If there was one positive to come from Wigan's afternoon, it was the return of Dom Manfredi.
He was introduced from the bench in the second-half to his familiar right wing spot and looked sharp in his first match in six months. He even scored the late try which offered Wigan brief hope.
A knee injury ruled him out of the Grand Final charge and he has missed the start of this campaign with a hand injury. With Manfredi back on the right edge, the knock on impact is three players - Jake Bibby, Liam Farrell and Morgan Smithies - can all revert back to their favoured positions.
And looking ahead, it will be interesting to see whether Lam takes kicking tee from Hardaker and gives it to Harry Smith - who nailed a sideline conversion - when he is playing.