Five things we learned from Wigan’s thrilling Challenge Cup quarter-final...
1. Welcome back, Sam Tomkins and John Bateman!
Just go get through 80 minutes - after so long on the sidelines - would have been a big effort. To do so and play so well, in the baking sun and in a high-stakes match, was a credit to them both.
Tomkins added width and sharpness to Wigan’s attack, Bateman was immense, both were competitive. They combined late on for Bateman to cross for a try, and Tomkins’ late drop-goal ultimately split the sides.
After a few testing weeks for Wigan, it was great to enjoy a victory again.
2. In the corner of the HJ Stadium, behind the big-screen, was a billboard advert stating: ‘Amazon is hiring.’
Joe Burgess admitted he may have considered applying had Stefan Ratchford’s late penalty gone over.
“And I’d have driven him to the interview myself,” joked Sam Tomkins. They could laugh about it afterwards, but when Burgess’ restarting kick sailed out on the full - 27-26 up, with two minutes to go - it presented Ratchford the chance to edge Wire in front.
They got another roll of the dice, but in a frantic, dramatic, nerve-shredding, edge-of-the-seat, can’t-afford-to-blink-in-case-I-miss-something finish, Wigan hung on.
3. It was an epic finish to an error-strewn game but, strangely, the spectacle was no poorer for it.
A case of the spills adding to the thrills? The fact Wigan led at half-time, despite completing only half their sets, summed up the barmy match.
Both sides were spirited and both were poor, for different reasons. Warrington were slow and lacked ideas at times; on those fronts, Wigan were fine - but they frequently blotted their copybook with errors and penalties.
Yet there were great plays from both sides, too, including: Sam Powell’s 40-20, Liam Marshall’s trysaving tackle at the end of the first-half, Ryan Atkins’ aerial catch for his first try, Dec Patton’s quick tie-through for his second, Joe Burgess’ finish in the corner, Micky McIlorum’s bone-jarring tackles. And mentioning highlights, what about...
4. George Williams. He answered the questions about Wigan’s goal-kicking in emphatic style.
He kicked five goals from as many attempts - including three from difficult positions, left and right side. Since being handed the role, Williams had hardly been able to practice his kicking because of a congested run featuring five games in 20 days.
But with a nine-day lead-up up yesterday’s match, he had a chance to sharpen his skills, and it paid off.
Warrington’s late call-up Dec Patton also hit a perfect five from five. Stefan Ratchford was handed the task of kicking the late penalty - full-backs usually restart plays, so practice longer-range kicks. On that front, Joe Burgess had the restart role for Wigan for the first time because Sam Tomkins was returning from a broken foot injury.
5. A word on Warrington - are they really heading for the ‘middle eights’?
They were good at the Magic Weekend and, while they lacked direction and attacking options at times, they were certainly spirited in this tie.
But they are 10th in the table, two places and four points below Wigan - these sides meet again next month, ahead of the season split for the Super-8s phase. Before then, the Warriors face Huddersfield, Widnes and Catalans, looking for maximum points which would help move them clear of danger, and make up lost ground on the sides above them.