Wigan Warriors 14 Warrington Wolves 26: Five things we learned
Five things we learned from Wigan's 26-14 defeat to Warrington at the Magic Weekend...
1. Another game, another loss.
A 12th defeat from 18 in all, and their 10th defeat in Super League which - following Huddersfield's win earlier in the day - dropped them down a spot to 9th.
In truth, given Wigan's troubles this season, the most recent losses - on the road to Warrington (twice) and Catalans - were probably expected; those games were hardly 'gimmes'. Their next three matches seem, on the surface, easier - away at Hull KR, Leeds and Huddersfield - before a final block of 10 matches which includes seven at home.
Adrian Lam's side are now as far off the bottom (four points) as they are the top-five; to describe the next few weeks as 'make-or-break' is not hyperbole.
2. To the game, and Wigan's performance was a notch up on the previous week in terms of effort and intent - that's one positive.
But it was far from a complete, consistent performance and the shortcomings and sins that have haunted their campaign resurfaced at various spells.
While defensively they limited Wire to three tries, their attack only sparkled for a brief spell in the third quarter when they drew level 8-8.
Which brings us to...
3. The decision to punish Taulima Tautai for a knock-on, when he placed the ball down to clutch his neck when he was injured, seemed harsh.
Lam went a step further and suggested it flipped the game on its head as, not long after, Wire scored quickfire tries from Austin and Toby King to put the game out of reach.
While it was a flashpoint in the match, Wigan allowed it to become a turning point - it didn't excuse the way Blake Austin was allowed to cut through a flapping defence. Lam felt his side were the better for an hour; it seemed many disagreed with his assessment.
This defeat ended Wigan's proud run at the Magic Weekend - it was their first loss since 2008. And it also saw the revived Locker Cup head to the HJ Stadium... a tip of the hat, by the way, to both clubs for their stylish retro kits in honour of the Milwaukee game of 30 years ago.
4. Morgan Smithies is only 18 but the forward has given every indication he belongs at this level.
His dogged determination has shades of John Bateman - he has been one of the highlights of a campaign which has coughed and spluttered in attempting to road into life.
Zak Hardaker, Oliver Gildart and Tony Clubb also had notable moments at Magic. Lam expects to welcome a few players back for their next game - in two weeks at Hull KR - and it will be interesting to see if Smithies has done enough to cling on to his place.
5. So, how was it for you?
There was skepticism when the Magic Weekend moved to Liverpool - its fifth host city - and even Super League officials admitted they expected a crowd of around 50,000 over the two days.
But the opening day attendance tipped 30,000 and the atmosphere crackled inside the ground from start to finish.
There was entertainment between matches, to keep the day flowing fast, and the usual activities and stalls outside. While it doesn't have the city centre literally on the doorstep like Newcastle, many agreed it was a fun opening day.