Wigan Warriors 16 Huddersfield Giants 16

Wigan drew and yet still pulled clear at the top of the Super League ladder after a thrilling finish to an admittedly poor game.

Sunday, 19th March 2017, 3:57 pm
Updated Friday, 24th March 2017, 10:55 am
Anthony Gelling breaks free during Wigan's draw with Huddersfield at the DW Stadium

While Wigan remain unbeaten, they had to settle for a share of the spoils against a battling Huddersfield side.

But it wasn’t a bad afternoon, as Castleford’s loss at Salford allowed Shaun Wane’s men to edge one point clear at the summit.

Both teams had chances to snatch a win neither really deserved, with Sam Powell and Danny Brough both putting drop-goal attempts wide.

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This was the flattest and poorest Wigan have played this season, but that was down to circumstances rather than complacency. They not only went into the game without 10 frontline players, they spent most of the game with only two substitutes, and the extra work took its toll.

While they dug deep and showed plenty of character, it was a tired display with little of the attacking finesse they have exhibited in their five games so far.

Joel Tomkins, Romain Navarrete and Morgan Escare were among those to impress for Wigan, who never led throughout the 80-minutes.

The crowd size of 12,704 included participants of the Wigan run festival, who all received tickets for the game for the ‘family funday’ fixture.

Huddersfield - nilled at Leigh last week, battered by Hull FC the week before - had the added distraction of tabloid speculation Danny Brough, who started at stand-off, may be leaving after a bust-up with coach Rick Stone.

Liam Farrell pulled out pre-match with a tight calf, becoming the 10th frontline player to be ruled out injured. Forward Jack Wells was promoted to a starting spot in his place, and - as expected - Tom Davies made his debut on the wing.

If Wane started with a disjointed line-up, things soon got worse with Sean O’Loughlin and Wells both leaving the pitch injured inside eight minutes, leaving him with just two fit substitutes for the rest of the game.

By that point, Wigan were already 6-0 down after England winger Jermaine McGillvary plucked out an O’Loughlin pass and raced 90m down field. Anthony Gelling did tremendously well to chase him down and halt him just short, but Lee Gaskell dived over from dummy half and Brough tagged on the extras.

Huddersfield smelled blood, but when Brough’s penalty attempt rebounded off the woodwork, the home side rallied and the crowd turned up the volume. Morgan Escare, again excellent, locked the scores with his first try for the club, though Joel Tomkins deserves praise for palming the ball into his path.

Darnell McIntosh rushed through a stretched defence in the 19th minute. But the seesawing exchanges continued, and the trend for players getting their first tries for their club, as debutant Davies dived over on the half-hour.

Again there was good work by Tomkins in the build-up, as he shrugged off Brough’s attempted tackle and flicked the ball on. Referee Chris Kendall awarded the try after consulting officials about whether Davies was in touch.

Escare missed the conversion, keeping two points between the sides. And that stretched to four when Brough booted a penalty following a spell of sustained pressure on the home line.

The second-half began like the first - flat and uninspiring - but Anthony Gelling ignited it with a superb solo effort in the 48th minute. The ball was fed to the right edge from the scrum, and Gelling - the self-proclaimed ‘Man of the People’ - burst through the defence to level the scores 14-14. Escare was again off-target with a difficult conversion.

Brough nudged the visitors back ahead, for a third time, with a 56th minute penalty - Wigan penalised for not being square at marker.

Wigan dug deep and, with a relieving penalty from Kendall, went close to a third try from George Williams’ looping pass to Marshall, but the chance was quickly closed.

Huddersfield received a team warning for repeatedly slowing down the play-the-ball, but the home side turned down the chance to kick a score-levelling penalty.

A few minutes later - after an exchange of half-chances, protests and errors - Wigan found themselves in a similar position and this time elected to kick, with Escare locking the score 16-16.

Sam Powell sliced a drop-goal, and in bringing bacll back, ball squeezed from Escare’s grasp, giving the Giants a crack at a winner with two minutes to go.