WIGAN eased into the fifth round of the Challenge Cup with a clinical display against Barrow yesterday.
The Championship side battled until the end, but the nine tries to nil highlighted the gulf in class between the two sides.
In truth, Wigan could have scored more had their handling been better, but for a contest that was never in doubt, there was enough quality to satisfy the majority of the 8,026 crowd.
The mercurial Sam Tomkins produced many of the thrills, showcasing his range of skills and scoring two impressive solo tries.
But this was far from a one-man show and one of the real positives to emerge from the game was the fluidity of their performance.
And the players deserve credit for refusing to let their enthusiasm dip even when they could easily have taken their foot off the gas.
Sometimes, the writing is on the wall early in a game. Yesterday, it was on the wall as soon as the teams were confirmed half-an-hour before kick-off.
Wigan’s starting line-up had only two players without representative experience on their CVs – and they were Liam Farrell and Josh Charnley, two of the country’s hottest young prospects!
Joel Tomkins returned to the team after a slight injury in place of Darrell Goulding, bolstering a familiarly impressive line-up which did, at least, have one surprise - the inclusion of academy-product Jack Hughes as a substitute.
The 19-year-old forward has been at Barrow on a dual-registration and when Lee Mossop withdrew with a hamstring strain, the ex-St Jude’s amateur was handed a bench spot ahead of the more experienced Amos Roberts and Goulding.
By contrast, Barrow coach Nigel Wright was missing seven players through either injury or ineligibility and only had three fit players on the bench.
Gary Broadbent, Richard Fletcher, James Coyle and James Nixon had injuries, on-loan Warriors prop
Ben Davies was prevented from playing while dual-registered Adam Walker (Huddersfield) and Hughes (Wigan) were recalled by their parent clubs.
The Cumbrian outfit didn’t disgrace themselves but never had the quality, pace or energy to keep with their celebrated opponents.
Wigan had already gone close through Joel Tomkins and George Carmont before opening their account in the ninth minute.
Thomas Leuluai’s burst of acceleration pierced the Barrow line and he had the legs to race over, Pat Richards hitting his first conversion of eight to make it 6-0.
Barrow went close to responding when Wiganer Andy Ballard profited from a short kick-off but the move broke down. Warriors breathed a collective sigh of relief – and immediately countered through a well-crafted dummy-half move between Mike McIlorum and the improving Brett Finch, which opened a gap for Andy Coley to charge through unopposed.
And when Ned Catic spilled ball inside own half, it was the invitation the home side needed to power further ahead. A scrum-base move saw Charnley break down the right wing and Carmont was in support to collect the looping inside pass, making it 18-0.
Barrow, at least, did manage to breach Wigan’s defence when Mike Backhouse crossed in the corner midway through the first half – only for a try to be ruled out for a forward pass by Nathan Mossop.
Hughes, wearing the no.33 shirt, was introduced to the action on the half-hour mark to generous applause, and was quick to get involved.
As the heavens opened, it was blatantly obvious that Barrow needed divine intervention to stop the onslaught.
Sam Tomkins’ scorching break took him close, brother Joel went even closer, before they wedged open a 24-point gap through replacement Paul Deacon.
The halfback took the ball at first receiver and – wearing a red head-guard – produced a spin that his former team-mate Henry Paul would have been proud of, evading three defenders to touchdown.
The half-time break did little to change the game’s complex.
Sam Tomkins was rewarded for a weaving run with a try which took Wigan to the 30-point mark.
Ballard, a former Warriors academy player, produced a good stint on Barrow’s wing to prevent Joel Tomkins and Charnley from inflicting further damage.
But after Hughes was rested following a tireless spell in the 49th minute, Sean O’Loughlin angled through a scattered defence to put Wigan 36-0 ahead.
Wigan were reduced to 12-men when Jeff Lima was sin-binned for preventing Barrow from taking a quick tap on the 20m, but it did little to hamper the home side, with Leuluai grabbing his second try in the 53rd minute from a trademark dash from Sam Tomkins.
The No.1 was relishing the open spaces provided by a tiring Barrow outfit, who struggled to break outside their own half in the last half-hour.
Hughes returned to the fray as Man of Steel Richards celebrated his new two-year deal with a try from Deacon’s shallow cross-field kick in the 65th minute, his copybook blotted only by a conversion attempt which sailed just wide after an impeccable run of seven without a miss.
And then Sam Tomkins took Wigan to the half-century mark with a thrilling solo effort which Barrow were powerless to prevent.
In the final minute, Australian forward Ryan Hoffman typified his side’s ruthless determination to keep their opponents scoreless when he hunted down Ballard and hauled him unceremoniously into touch.
Barrow at least earned the Wigan fans’ appreciation, and the visiting players were clapped off the pitch.