FIVE things we learned from Wigan’s 42-16 win against Catalans in London at the weekend:
“HOW much? £5.20? For ONE PINT?!” The girl behind the bar - one of many within a drop-kick distance from The Shard - answered with an apologetic nod to the stunned man wearing Cherry and White. But the beer prices, or the travel, couldn’t keep the fans away. Many made their way on the train, many more on free coaches laid on by the club, flooding the pedestrianised area outside The Den from two-hours before kick-off. The trip to London Broncos games used to be a highlight for many fans and, with that club no longer in Super League, this excursion seemed to go down well with the travelling faithful, despite the cynicism in some quarters in the build-up. Elsewhere, there were enough southern accents, suits and junior players to lend weight to Ian Lenagan’s case for expanding in the Big Smoke. But timing of any future ‘on the road’ fixture is important. Saturday’s match took place just a week after the Challenge Cup Final, and - if Wigan reach Wembley in 2016 - officials need to make sure next year’s ‘on the road’ league match is several weeks away.
FULHAM or QPR shaped as the early frontrunners to stage a Wigan game in London when the plan was first floated, before officials settled on Millwall.
But credit where it’s due. The staff were friendly and courteous, the stadium tidy enough. Wigan dressed it in Cherry and White branding to give it a homely feel, and there was a good, friendly atmosphere throughout. The stadium was less than half-full, but from the noise, never felt it. When Wigan go to London again, who would grumble about going back to Millwall? Maybe the fans who drove - or went on coaches - who had to go through the city. A venue on the north, or even the Twickenham Stoop on the west, would be easier to reach. But The Den is easily accessibly by train, just four minutes away from Tower Bridge (which itself is a short Tube ride from Euston) and there seemed no moans about the venue itself.
ONTO the game itself, and by half-time, neutrals may have been wondering if all rugby league games were that scrappy. As an exhibition for Super League, it fell flat. Not bad, bad. But not great, either. A well-constructed Matty Bowen try, a brutal shot by Micky McIlorum on Olivier Elima and the tense scoreline were the over-riding positives. Then, after the break, Scott Dureau scored a stunning try as many fans were getting back into their seats - credit Zeb Taia for the offload - to lock the scores, and suddenly it was game on.
Except it wasn’t, because Wigan pulled clear with some stylish play as Catalans faded. The strength of the Warriors squad was summed up by the the water-carrier - fit-again Joe Burgess, who was left out. And in an all-round strong team display, one player stood tallest:
THE shortest bloke out there - Matty Bowen. We all know he can have those games when nothing goes his way. And then he has those games when he is amazing. Well, this was undoubtedly the second. He scored two tries, made telling contributions in attack and defence, and kicked seven goals from as many attempts - three from close to the touchline. “He was outstanding,” said Shaun Wane. No-one would disagree. If only Wigan could accomodate him and Sam Tomkins in their side next season...
AND finally, spare a thought for Laurent Frayssinous. Oh sure, his excuse that they had flown Ryanair on the morning of the game - ‘and were always going to tire’ - was almost laughable. But no losing coach should ever, ever, have to pick the bones of a defeat... while accompanied by a huge, soft-toy lion in the press conference! It was a surprise he didn’t lean over and lamp a left hook across Simba’s chops.