'Wigan Warriors were a part of history... but the focus has quickly switched to their immediate future'

They came, they saw, they crumbled.

Sunday, 19th May 2019, 1:16 pm
Updated Sunday, 19th May 2019, 2:16 pm
Thomas Leuluai and Tony Clubb arriving at FC Barcelona

On the biggest stage, in front of Super League's biggest ever attendance - first declared at 26,241 and then amended to 31,555 - Wigan laboured to what Adrian Lam described as probably their worst performance of the year.

A performance to forget for an occasion to remember.

Of course, in the near-100,000 capacity venue, this modern day coliseum was two-thirds empty - that was to be expected.

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But don't let anyone tell you this wasn't a triumph for Super League. It has taken more than two decades to attract a crowd that big; the fact it was achieved not in England or even the south of France, but in Barcelona, was quite surreal.

And it was the venue itself which was the drawcard. The Nou Camp. Or Camp Nou, as it is officially known, one of the most iconic venues in the world, home of one of the biggest clubs in the world, and arguably the greatest footballer in the world.

On the hallowed turf where Messi and his mates regularly sprinkle their stardust, Wigan couldn't replicate their best form.

After the disappointment of defeat came snap reactions and conclusions (if Catalans weren't that bad when they lost 42-0 at Wigan earlier this year, are Wigan that bad now?).

A win would have moved them to within two points of a top-five spot, and stretched their league winning run to four matches. But they rarely looked like winning, their best amigo by half-time the 8-6 scoreline.

They soon collapsed, the rediscovered defensive resolve of recent weeks melted away against a muscular performance from the Dragons.

The Warriors have played badly this year before, of course, often when errors and discipline have undone their effort.

Not so, this time.

The penalty-count was level and Wigan only made two more errors than Catalans. Whatever the data and the stats and the analysis and the experts say, Wigan just didn't look as up for it as their spirited opponents.

Kris Radlinski says this occasion will rank alongside Wigan's other memorable - and incredible - games in their history: Milwaukee, Bath, Brisbane. And it will, despite the loss.

No, despite the performance.

Because the previous week's defeat at Warrington showed that many fans can tolerate losses when they see their team having a dig and playing well. And another of those would have been the perfect spectacle for this occasion.

Still, many in Barcelona didn't allow the display to dampen the event too much.

Thousands of fans made the trip, some days before, some on the day, some travelling in from nearby resorts. They mingled with the Catalonia fans outside the Nou Camp, which created a carnival atmosphere, and the bars, stalls, and children's activities gave it a Magic Weekend feel.

Once inside, wow. The ground is tired in patches and in need of a polish, but pictures don't do justice to just how imposing the walled-stands are.

On a sun-kissed Saturday, many fans scattered around the lower ring of seats, with more in the middle tier alongside the touchlines. And while there was a criminal lack of advertising and branding around Barcelona - no leaflets, posters, billboards - Catalans put on a good event on the day, with the right mix of tradition and razzmatazz, all soundtracked to a classic rock playlist booming from the speakers.

It felt like a final. It felt like history being made.

Such a shame Wigan's display left many quickly turning their attention to their immediate future...