Five things we learned from Wigan’s 20-38 home defeat by Castleford...
1. Wigan were brilliant. For about 10 minutes.
The rest of the time, they were dominated in every area as table-toppers Castleford delivered a crushing blow to the home side’s play-offs hopes.
Having revived their top-four chances with eight wins from their last 10 league games, they relapsed, and produced the type of error-littered display - devoid of bite and ideas - that have blighted their turbulent campaign. Too many players fell way short of their best, and in their list of sins, it was the apparent lack of hunger which hurt the most.
Wigan trailed 20-0 at half-time and, while their hopes were briefly revived during a three-try golden spell, Shaun Wane conceded that was down to Castleford easing up.
The defeat means...
2. Wigan’s fate is now out of their hands.
If they are to claim a place in the play-offs positions, they will need to win their last game of the season at Wakefield on Saturday - AND hope either Hull FC lose their match AND/OR St Helens lose or draw their final fixture.
Saints travel to Salford on Thursday, while FC are at Castleford 24 hours later - both on TV - meaning the Warriors will know if they still have a shot at the top-four before they travel to Yorkshire.
But note - if Saints lose, then Wakefield will also be battling for a top-four spot.
If both Hull and St Helens win, then Wigan would need a mathematical miracle to still reach the top-four - beating Wakefield by a huge margin (65, plus Saints’ winning margin) to overhaul their for-and-against advantage.
In a year when Wigan have won the World Club Challenge and made the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley, they are in danger of missing out on the play-offs (albeit in a tougher, trimmed format) for the first time since 2006.
3. Castleford have the flashy plays, flashy players... hell, they even flashy names (Zak Hardaker, Jesse Sene-Lefao).
But they also get the basics right, defend well and play aggressively down the middle.
Early on, it was hard to tell whether Wigan were much worse than in some other matches this season, or the quality of opposition just so much better. Certainly, when the Warriors repeatedly coughed up possession in their own half, the Tigers ruthlessly capitalised. Credit to them - they are the only team Wigan have failed to beat this year, and they have easily been the best team this season.
They have not eased up since securing the league leaders’ shield and, for one night only, Wigan fans will be Tigers supporters this week when they take on Hull.
Go on Cas’!
4. Wane pre-empted the absence of Sean O’Loughlin would be a bigger blow than Luke Gale’s injury for Cas’. He will take little satisfaction from being proved right.
Tigers’ teenage halfback Jake Trueman announced himself on the big stage with a stunning hat-trick in the opening half - as well as the assist for their opener - to suggest Cas will be just fine even if Gale doesn’t play again this year.
By contrast, did Wigan’s abject display highlight the influence O’Loughlin has on the side?
Consider this: Wigan have lost all seven of their Super League games without their skipper - their only victory with him missing was against part-timers Swinton in the Cup.
Which means this year, they have lost 88 per cent of the games he hasn’t played - and only lost 23 per cent of the matches he has played.
Those cold figures suggest an over-reliance on the 34-year-old England skipper, who has yet to agree a contract extension for next season.
5. Wigan fans will need to wait around five months to see the team at the DW Stadium again.
Of their 15 home games played in 2017 - including the World Club Challenge - they won eight, drew one and lost six.
Officials did a great job with the pre-game bill yesterday, with players walking out with their children, and legends including Steve Hampson, Shaun Edwards and Andy Gregory on the pitch to commemorate the 30 year anniversary of the ‘87 win against Manly.
Wigan looked smart in their special retro-kit - though their poor record while wearing ‘one-off’ kits rumbled on.
On a brighter note, the bumper crowd of 15,706 meant they finished with an average Super League attendance of 13,668 - a slight increase on last year.