Wigan 28 Castleford 12
Oliver Gildart crossed for two tries to help Wigan claim an impressive win which kept the pressure on Super League pace-setters St Helens.
Watching England RU coach Eddie Jones once described rugby league as “not a skillful game”.
He may reassess his view after watching some of the passages from these two heavyweights.
Gildart’s two tries, both from Joe Burgess breaks, two more tries down that potent left edge - from Liam Farrell and George Williams - and a crash-over from Tony Clubb inflicted the damage on the scoreboard.
But this was a collective effort built on a robust defensive display, and featuring strong carries down the middle and guile from Sean O’Loughlin and Sam Tomkins.
Castleford, while scratchy and ill-disciplined at times, had their moments and debutant winger Garry Lo did enough to suggest he could become a firm crowd-pleaser.
The Tigers - who won all three meetings last year - were the last remaining side Wigan hadn’t faced this year. Coming just a week after beating champions Leeds, they added fellow last year’s other Grand Finalists to their list of scalps in this first half of the regular season to keep the pressure on leaders St Helens.
The Warriors had marketed this showdown as a ‘grudge match’ and, while both coaches have persistently played down their rivalry, it proved a spirited and entertaining affair.
Wane brought Ben Flower back but there was no place for Morgan Escare with the Wigan coach again opting for four forwards on the bench. One of them, Romain Navarrete, only got his place minutes before kick-off when centre Dan Sarginson was withdrawn because of a back spasm.
Blockbusting PNG winger Lo showed off his footballing skills as he dribbled a spilled ball close to Wigan’s line early on. By then, Luke Gale had already nudged the visitors into a 2-0 lead with a fourth-minute penalty.
Sam Tomkins locked the scores moments later.
With Flower and Clubb dominating down the middle, Wigan took a grip of the contest. A venomous hand-off from Burgess allowed him to pierce the line and break from deep and, when he was dragged down just short, Gildart had the simple job of scooting over from dummy-half. They extended their lead to 14-2 soon after when Farrell’s spin - straight from a Henry Paul highlights reel - left Gale clutching at thin air. Tomkins, rock solid at the back, added both conversions.
Recent games have reminded fans how strong O’Loughlin’s influence on the side is and, when he was spelled, the Tigers scored two tries to reel in the Warriors’ lead. Back-to-back penalties, both conceded by Farrell, marched the Tigers into good territory and Oliver Holmes crashed over on an angled run seven minutes before half-time.
Wigan went close to responding with a stylish, part ad-lib attack involving Tomkins, Gildart and George Williams, but the chance went to waste. In a real sucker-punch, Lo finished off a left-side attack. Gale was off-target with the conversion, meaning Wigan took a slender two-point advantage into the break.
They wasted no time in reasserting their authority, Burgess’ scorching break from deep again paving the way for the supporting Gildart to score and make it 18-12.
Wigan weren’t at their best - several passes were off the mark - and with half-an-hour to go O’Loughlin returned to steady the ship. And when Tomkins struck a 40-20, it set up the position for Williams to show his strength with a determined, jinking run for the line. Tomkins’ conversion took the score to 24-12 as the game inched into the final quarter.
Lo went within inches of responding to remind Wigan the game was not won, but Clubb wrapped up the win when he crashed over from close range.
Wigan: S Tomkins; Marshall, Bateman, Gildart, Burgess; Williams, Powell; Clubb, Leuluai, Flower, Isa, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Subs: J Tomkins, Sutton, Tautai, Navarrete.
Castleford: Trueman; Minikin, Webster, Shenton, Lo; Roberts, Gale; Watts, McShane, Massey, Holmes, Wardle, Foster. Subs: Millington, McMeeken, Milner, Cook.
Referee: Robert Hicks
Starman: Sam Tomkins