AFTER the party, the hangover. What Good Friday had in excitement, this had in errors; what the derby victory had in thrills, this had in spills.
The energy-sapping victory over St Helens appeared to take its toll on the champions, as they made hard work of over-powering John Kear’s battling Wakefield outfit.
There were occasional touches of class from Sam Tomkins and evergreen centre George Carmont, but the performance never scaled the heights of the epic that unfolded at the DW Stadium three days earlier.
It’s hard to be critical of the players after such a gruelling schedule.
They showed plenty of effort, but their attacks frequently broke down and – on any other day – they could have raced in half-a-century of points.
Still, it was a welcomed two points for Michael Maguire’s outfit.
This was their third win in succession and with two relatively easy fixtures ahead – against Crusaders and Harlequins – they can look to climb the Super League ladder.
The fact Wigan prevented their opponents from scoring – the first time this year they have nilled a team – will also boost their confidence.
Wigan won both their meetings with Wakefield last season, triumphing 54-14 a year ago at home and 48-6 in the return leg.
Their spirits were sky-high after Friday’s dramatic 28-24 win over arch-rivals St Helens.
But Michael Maguire had stressed to his players Wildcats had beaten high-flying Castleford by the same scoreline on the same day, and went into yesterday’s match with three victories from their last six matches – form that defied their lowly 13th position in the ladder.
Despite the quick turnaround, Maguire resisted the temptation to bring in the fresh legs of Darrell Goulding, Chris Tuson or Amos Roberts.
Instead he named the same 17 players that beat St Helens, the only difference being Brett Finch and Lee Mossop switched places with Paul Deacon and Jeff Lima in the starting line-up.
Wakefield’s side featured Stuart Howarth, the loose- forward cut by Wigan at the end of last season after captaining the Under-20s to Grand Final success.
On a glorious afternoon, Warriors’ loyal fans travelled in numbers for what may prove to be their last trip to Belle Vue in some time, if rumours of Wakefield’s bleak Super League future are to be believed.
Many of them may have predicted a cricket scoreline when Wigan took the lead in just the third minute. But they had to wait until the half-hour to see a second try, with the Good Friday epic seemingly taking its toll on the players.
An early knock-on by Tommy Lee presented Wigan with easy field position, and after the forwards had softened Wakefield’s line with some direct charges, Richards strolled in unopposed courtesy of O’Loughlin’s looping pass. The towering winger was unable to convert.
The visitors fell foul of referee Robert Hicks’ penalty decisions and spent the next few minutes deep inside their own half, but for all of Wakefield’s enthusiasm, they never had the nous to really trouble their opponents.
Wigan’s rapid play-the-balls kept the Wildcats on the back foot and, in truth, they could have been well in command had they taken all of their chances.
Sam Tomkins was dragged down inches short of the line following a dancing run through a scattered defence, and in their next attack, Finch earned a penalty after being taken out off the ball while chasing his own kick – only for another move to break down.
Harrison Hansen limped off in the 27th minute with a knee problem, before Maguire’s men finally broke Wakefield’s plucky resistance and crossed for a second try on the half-hour mark.
A neat break by Ryan Hoffman was supported by Sam Tomkins, and the full-back crossed under the sticks for a touchdown that Richards converted, making it 10-0.
Tomkins then brought the game to life with a moment of genius in the 37th minute.
He chipped the ball over Wakefield’s defence, raced to regather and angled for the corner. Matt Blaymire tracked him down, but he offloaded to brother Joel and he in turn fed winger Josh Charnley.
Richards was again off target with a difficult conversion attempt, and the scoreline remained 14-0 until the break.
Andy Coley had a try ruled out early in the second half following a rampaging charge for the line, Hicks ruling the prop had spilled the ball.
Mike McIlorum’s thunderous hit on Paul Johnson did little to spark his side into life, and it needed a desperate tackle by Sam Tomkins to deny the same Wakefied player with a ball-and-all tackle over the line.
Warriors found themselves under further pressure minutes later as Hicks penalised them for holding down, and their defence was given a thorough examination.
Carmont’s determined run for the line was halted just short, but Lima spilled the next pass – and that typified how Maguire’s men continued to undo their own good work.
On the hour-mark, Carmont and O’Loughlin combined wonderfully to cut Wakefield open and send Richards clear, but loose forward O’Loughlin couldn’t collect the return inside pass and yet another promising move collapsed.
Wakefield refused to lie down but Wigan finally broke their second-half duck. Carmont caused the damage with a dazzling run down the left side and then, from the next tackle, Joel Tomkins thundered over on the opposite side, Richards’ goal extending the lead to 20-0.
And O’Loughlin wrapped the victory up with a try in the dying minutes, even if there was more than a hint of a forward pass in the approach.