MICK Potter must be sick of Wigan! They ruined his leaving party from St Helens, and yesterday gate-crashed his first home game in charge of Bradford to claim their first win of the new Super League season.
Potter had complained of Wigan’s defensive tactics in the build-up to the game but their triumph yesterday was down to seizing chances, and executing their attacks masterfully.
Wigan had let a 20-0 lead slip to a 22-20 defeat in the corresponding fixture last year and, of more concern, sacrificed a 16-0 lead against St Helens a week ago to return home with a point.
Though they again dropped off in the second-half yesterday there was little danger of an upset. Their five tries in the opening half effectively put the result beyond doubt, and while Bradford had the tenacity to fight-back they didn’t have the talent, scoring just two tries before the Warriors finished the game strongly with three further touchdowns.
Michael Maguire knows the Dragons will present a far tougher obstacle and will look to improve their discipline, which again failed them in stages and conspired to a largely flat second-half outing.
But there were also plenty of positives, not least the performance of Sam Tomkins, who was at the heart of everything good that Wigan did.
His vision, passing precision and scorching breaks troubled the Bulls time and again, and while it was far from being a one-man show, his near-impeccable display at full-back and influence in attack underlined just how pivotal he is to this team.
Maguire made two changes to the side that drew with Saints in Cardiff. As predicted, Stuart Fielden returned from injury and replaced the suspended Jeff Lima – the game against his former club given extra significance for Fielden as it was his first game in front of his son, Robbie – and Amos Roberts came in for Josh Charnley.
Continuing the ‘baby’ theme, Roberts missed that game last week because his wife gave birth to their baby boy.
Bradford had recruited heavily in the off-season and with new coach Potter at the reigns, wanted to get their home campaign off to a flyer.
But with World Club Challenge places up for grabs, the Wigan players had no shortage of motivation themselves.
After a minute’s applause before kick-off for tragic Terry Newton, Wigan swatted away an early Bradford threat to impose their authority on the game.
Maguire’s men kept the Bulls pegged back in their own half and exploited the position to take a 4-0 lead in the 10th minute. A raid of forward drives softened Bradford’s line, and fast-hands from Paul Deacon and George Carmont saw Roberts cross unopposed in the corner for his first try since June. Deacon was unable to convert.
Roberts went agonisingly close to grabbing his second three minutes later, before Deacon’s angled kick to the in-goal was spilled by Chev Walker, and Harrison Hansen was on hand to collect his second try of the season following a touchdown in Cardiff. Deacon’s goal made it 10-0.
Wigan benefitted from an early 4-1 penalty count but not all the refereeing decisions went their way – Sean O’Loughlin’s chances of a try were wiped away by Phil Bentham calling a forward pass. Aside from Brett Kearney’s desperate lunge for the line, the visitors were rarely tested in the opening half, but they needed some inspiration to match their perspiration.
That was provided by Roberts, who did a magnificent job to steal the ball from Elliot Whitehead in a tackle, and set the platform for Thomas Leuluai to jink his way through a scattered defence on the half-hour. Deacon’s goal put Wigan 16-0 ahead.
The loss of Martin Gleeson to a leg injury prompted a reshuffle, with Joel Tomkins shifting to centre and Liam Farrell coming off the bench to continue his encouraging start to the year.
The Bulls had a second try ruled out, before the visitors powered ahead, a delicate pass from Leuluai unleashing Sam Tomkins from midfield, and Farrell was on hand to finish off. Deacon’s conversion extended their advantage to 22-0. As the clock ticked down to half-time, Bradford’s composure deteriorated, Ian Sibbitt was placed on report for foul play on Joel Tomkins and from the resulting penalty, Wigan eased down field for Darrell Goulding to run over from a Sam Tomkins looping pass.
The Bulls started the second-half full of enthusiasm and registered a try from Whitehead in the 44th minute. That score injected a dose of self-belief into the home side and – roared on by their home fans – they crossed again in the 55th minute through Kiwi winger Patrick Ah Van, who also hit one of his two conversion attempts. Ah Van blotched his copy-book, though, when he spilled Sam Tomkins’ regulation kick and from the repeat set Roberts strolled over unopposed for his second try of the afternoon. Deacon was again on target, extending the scoreline to 32-10, and he bettered George Carmont’s touchdown moments later.
Fittingly, it was Sam Tomkins who put the icing on the cake for Wigan as he sliced through the Bulls defence on his way to a fine solo try. Deacon, Bradford’s top points-scorer, added his sixth conversion.
l WIGAN’S Under-20s game against Bradford yesterday was postponed.