Harlequins 6 Warriors 38

Pat Richards holds off Tony Clubb
Pat Richards holds off Tony Clubb

MICHAEL Maguire admitted Wigan rode their luck in their previous two victories.

And while they benefitted from some questionable decisions in the opening half, it would be ridiculous to put this victory down to good fortune.

Having somehow finished the opening half 14-6 ahead, they regrouped and were fully in control as they stormed back to the top of the ladder with a fifth straight win.

Two quickfire tries by Paul Deacon early in the second-half had Quins on the ropes, Stefan Marsh’s try knocked them down and Brett Finch’s late clincher counted them out for 10.

This was Wigan’s third game in nine days and, early on, it looked to take its toll as the hosts gave Warriors a huge scare.

But the energy they displayed in the second-half was nothing short of staggering.

Each kick was enthusiastically chased, each attack layered with decoys and angled runners.

The few attacking chances Quins had in the second-half were quickly snuffed out by a fierce and fast rushing defence led by the impressive Harrison Hansen, Jeff Lima and Lee Mossop.

Given the circumstances and given the prickly opposition, it was a satisfying Saturday out in the capital for the champions.

Wigan smashed Quins 54-6 at the DW in May but, playing their third game in nine days, it was always going to be tough to produce a similar white-hot display.

Captain Sean O’Loughlin and centre George Carmont were left out of Maguire’s side, while Paul Prescott (hamstring) and Darrell Goulding (groin) also missed out.

Gareth Hock passed a fitness test but was warming up, alone, three-quarters on an hour before the kick-off to nurse a groin problem which restricted his midweek appearance against Castleford to a cameo.

Stefan Marsh was handed a chance in the starting line-up, Chris Tuson was preferred to Liam Farrell at loose forward and Thomas Leuluai switched back to scrum-half to accommodate Mike McIlorum’s reinstatement to starting hooker.

Quins included on-loan Karl Pryce on one wing and ex-Warrior Mark Calderwood on the other.

The match doubled as a testimonial for Rob Purdham, the captain of the capital’s out-post club who will almost certainly be playing under a new name next year.

A former team-mate of his at the Stoop – Leuluai – led the Warriors out in O’Loughlin’s absence.

Wigan showed plenty of early promise and in the fourth minute Finch appeared to have put them ahead from a darting run, only for a try to be ruled out for a double-movement.

So often good attacks crumbled at the decisive time, with Josh Charnley twice spilling the ball from Tomkins’ passes – first Joel, then Sam – and Richards unable to collect Finch’s spiralling kick. Two penalties in rapid succession eased Quins down field but Hansen took the sting out of their attack with a bone-shuddering tackle on Luke Gale, Quins’ most prominent player.

Ryan Hoffman went close before Wigan finally opened the scoring, when Richards leapt to collect Leuluai’s kick and plunged the ball down. Sam Tomkins – back on the ground where he made his Super League debut, and his bow at full-back – was a constant threat and his menacing dart set up the position for Ryan Hoffman to crash over to make it 10-0.

If Wigan felt hard-done to by the decision to rule out Finch’s opener, Quins suffered worse, with three claims for tries – for Tony Clubb, Lee Mitchell and Purdham – waved away.

Despite their bad luck, Quins were growing in confidence and were repeatedly invited to attack by some uncharacteristic basic errors from the Warriors, such as kicking out on the full and being caught in possession on the final tackle.

That last sin was punished by Pryce in the 26th minute when the lumbering winger took advantage of too much space provided by Charnley to cross.

Wigan fought to re-establish their authority and from a scrum, Sam Tomkins’ mazy, probing run found Hansen, who powered over to make it 14-6.

Hansen then punched through the tiring Quins line to set the platform for Deacon’s opening try in the 46th minute.

And “the old man” – Maguire’s words – grabbed his second four minutes later from short-range to make it 26-6.

Back to back penalties had Wigan defending their line but Quins’ limited options never caused them any headaches, and after having one try ruled out, the eye-catching Marsh raced over to pile on the misery.

Quins, to their credit, wouldn’t lie down and Dan Sarginson’s piercing break suggested the 18-year-old stand-off, on home debut, has a promising future. But it was his opposite number Finch who had the final say with a match-crowning try.