Wigan Warriors 44 Catalans 0

Jeff Lima
Jeff Lima

PAT Richards wrote his name into the Wigan record-books – on a night when his team remained on course to do the same.

The towering winger – the only Warriors player to figure in all 16 matches against Catalan since the French club’s inception in 2006 – kicked eight goals to enter a coveted club.

He became only the fourth player after Jim Sullivan, Frano Botica and Andy Farrell to reach 2,000 points for Wigan.

It marked a remarkable achievement on a magical evening, as Wigan kept their dream of recording their first league and Cup double since 1995.

They were well in control at half-time after tries by Josh Charnley, Ryan Hoffman and Liam Farrell helped them into an 18-0 lead. And they turned up the heat after the break, scoring some wonderful touchdowns and choking the life out of Catalan with a swarming, tigerish defence that kept their opponents scoreless – the first time the Cherry and Whites had ‘nilled’ a side since beating minnows Barrow back in May.

If the players were suffering an emotional hangover from their Wembley heroics, then Michael Maguire discovered the perfect tonic, and it was no surprise that the Warrington officials who watched the game from the DW directors seats later opted against facing the reigning champions next weekend.

Lee Mossop was named in the original team in place of Ben Cross, but limped off during the warm-up, and 18th man Eamon O’Carroll was drafted into the squad as a late replacement.

In the only other change Paul Deacon was dropped from the team, forcing a reshuffle which saw Thomas Leuluai switch to half-back, Mike McIlorum take the hooker spot and Chris Tuson come onto the bench.

Catalan were missing suspended David Ferriol from the team that destroyed Hull KR 56-6 in the opening round of the play-offs.

Ryan Hoffman recovered from a back spasm to take his place in the side, in his final game at the DW Stadium. Retiring-prop Andy Coley, Hull FC-bound O’Carroll and, of course, coach Maguire were also making their home farewells.

Wigan were heavy favourites to reach the semi-finals stage before kick-off but Catalan were the only side who the Warriors failed to beat this year.

Throw in the fact that Maguire’s side had yet to sustain anything like their best form since the Challenge Cup Final, and it explained why there was so much nervous tension on the terraces as the two sides emerged onto the pitch.

The Warriors, though, have showed an admirable ability to thrive under pressure, having navigated the play-offs last year, the Challenge Cup this year, and survived an early mid-season wobble (which in truth, only consisted of one defeat and one draw) unscathed. The players were gagged in the week but their performance spoke volumes of their character, ability and durability.

They were stoic and composed defensively, out-muscled Catalan’s strong-running pack and executed some sublime attacking plays.

Richards booted Wigan into a 2-0 lead in the third minute after an infringement by the ageless Steve Menzies..

In the early exchanges dominated by ferocious forwards battle, George Carmont had the best chance to put Wigan into a great scoring position, but was harshly adjudged to have knocked on when Clint Greenshields appeared to rip the ball from his grasp.

Catalan countered swiftly by threatening a try of their own when Sam Tomkins spilled a kick and Thomas Bosc was on hand to gobble up the loose ball, only for the video referee to rule the effort out for offside.

The Dragons had plenty of early promise, and it took a desperate lunge by the exceptional Thomas Leulaui to drag Greenshields down just inches from the line after Ian Henderson had weaved through the home defence far too easily.

The full-blooded exchanges – typified by Sean O’Loughlin’s bone-jarring tackle on Michael Simon – continued until Wigan took a grip of the contest with two tries in five minutes mid-way through the first half.

First, winger Charnley – who had coped admirably well under an aerial bombardment – collected Sam Tomkins’ looping cut-out pass and touched down in the corner.

That score injected a double dose of confidence into the home side, who wasted no time in extending their lead when Brett Finch slipped a beautiful pass for the charging Hoffman to thunder over the line to make it 12-0.

Catalan didn’t lie down and Lomina Paea crossed in the 34th minute but a try was instantly ruled out by Steve Ganson for a forward pass.

As the game edged towards half-time, Finch hit a drop goal attempt wide, before Wigan opened up an 18-point advantage with the last play of the half in stunning fashion.

Leuluai collected Paul Prescott’s offload, chipped ahead and regathered and passed inside to Liam Farrell. It was a tremendous exhibition of skill from Kiwi Leuluai, all executed in the blink of an eye.

Joel Tomkins left the action at half-time with a leg injury, forcing Hoffman to fill in at right centre.

Catalan were causing problems with their offloads but Wigan never panicked.

Finch did well to steal the ball from Paea to take the sting out of their best attacks, while Leuluai and Charnley both made telling tackles to keep them at arm’s reach. Richards’ 49th minute try gave them some breathing space.

Wigan’s swarming defence clearly rattled the visitors. They were caught in possession on the fifth tackle, then Cyril Stacul took a ball over the line, and with such a long list of sins it invited the champions to press their advantage.

After Richards had a try ruled out for obstruction, they eventually put the game to bed when Sam Tomkins angled a kick through the line, Richards poked the ball on and Carmont gratefully collected to cross.

Richards’ conversion saw him take his place in the coveted 2,000 club – and Wigan were far from finished.

Finch scooped up Eloi Pelissier’s loose ball to race under the sticks in the 64th minute, and moments later Sam Tomkins grabbed his 32nd try of a remarkable campaign, when Charnley had dislodged the ball from Stacul’s grasp.

Harrison Hansen, making his 200th senior appearance of his career, added the crowing glory with a late try.