Three touchdowns and eighteen points in a blistering seven minute second quarter spell put paid to the Warrington Wolves challenge as the Warriors poured on the pain in compiling an emphatic victory that consolidates their playoff positiion.
Warrington had looked the more enthusiastic of the two teams in the opening quarter, but fell away dramatically, a slump that jeopardises their playoff hopes, leaving them stranded on 22 points with Catalans and Harlequins eager to leap-frog them into the top-eight.
Without Phil Bailey (Achilles) and Darrell Goulding, Wigan barely looked troubled once they got their noses in front. And impressive displays from deputies Mark Flanagan and Lee Mossop will boost their confidence. All they need now is to get rid of Iafetta Paleaasina’s ridiculous Santa hat.
(I) was pleased that the players found the right way to respond. They did some really good things.
However, Warrington’s traditional pre-Wembley injuries left them without semi-final heroes: Matt King (hamstring); Jon Clarke (ankle); Garreth Carvell (rib); Chris Hicks (finger) and Ben Harrison (quad). Chris Riley passed a late ‘head’ test to take his place in the team along with Kevin Penny and Steve Pickersgill both returning from loan spells at Widnes.
Wigan threatened early with Richie Mathers’ smothering tackle halting Andy Coley on the Wolves line, dispossessing the prop in the process and repelling the Warriors opening onslaught. The Wolves then threatened with a quick fire raid down their left flank initiated by Vinnie Anderson but ending in a wayward forward pass.
But with Warrington looking the hungrier team, it was stand-off, Chris Bridge, who broke the deadlock reacting first to beat George Carmont to Lee Briers cheeky grubber.
Pat Richards hit back for the Warriors stepping inside a Kevin Penny tackle to crash in at the left corner from close range to tie the game at 4-4.
Wigan hit the front after Sam Tomkins injected a piece of real skill into proceedings, putting in a perfect chip ahead without breaking stride as he carried the ball forward. It bounced tamely up for Amos Roberts to sprint in at the right corner, with Richards tagging on the goal.
Another piece of weaving, dodging Tomkins magic saw the half back break the Wolves line with a 30 metre burst, paving the way for Cameron Phelps, who’s mazy run from dummy half completed the break to touch down by the right upright and to extend the Warriors’ lead. Tomkins though was lucky to escape censure for a petulant kick out in the tackle in the build-up to Phelps touchdown.
When Thomas Leuluai broke free of a tackle ten metres out it was try time all the way and the Warriors lead was 18 points, as Richards bagged his third goal. And Phelps almost teed one up for Carmont moments later with a neat offload that saw the centre halted on the line as the Warriors poured forward in numbers.
And the Wigan surge continued in the second half. Sam Tomkins bursting through midfield and Martin Gleeson finishing the move off, crossing at left centre. Richards added the extras.
Richards was instrumental in sending George Carmont over minutes later, sprinting clear down the left wing from half way before sending an inside pass to Carmont for the try, which Richards converted.
The rout continued, with Warrington fans baying their defiance by proclaiming their imminent trip to Wembley. Although Chris Riley briefly looked to have stemmed the tide by dribbling and hacking a loose ball down the left flank for a try. It was disallowed on video review because Riley was adjudged to have nudged opposite number, Roberts, in the back as he attempted to field the ball.
Instead it turned into another Wigan score, Mark Flanagan, showing a neat step and great timing in the offload to give Carmont an easy score.
Vinnie Anderson did peg a try back for the Wolves to make it 36-10 (after Bridge’s conversion). And Chris Riley nudged over at the same left corner for another one on 74 minutes with Bridge again converting, but it was little consolation for the Wolves as the game meandered to its inevitable conclusion.
Wigan Warriors: 21 Cameron Phelps, 2 Amos Roberts, 22 Martin Gleeson, 4 George Carmont, 5 Pat Richards, 25 Sam Tomkins, 7 Thomas Leuluai,, 15 Andy Coley, 9 Mark Riddell, 19 Paul Prescott, 14 Joel Tomkins, 16 Harrison Hansen, 13 Sean O’Loughlin
Subs: 8 Stuart Fielden, 10 Iafeta Paleaaesina, 24 Lee Mossop, 26 Mark Flanagan
T: Richards (18), Roberts (27), Phelps (30), Leuluai (33), Gleeson (45), Carmont (47, 57)
G: Richards 4/7
Warrington Wolves: 30 Richard Mathers, 5 Kevin Penny, 13 Vinnie Anderson, Paul Johnson, 19 Chris Riley, 25 Chris Bridge, 6 Lee Briers, 18 Mike Cooper, 7 Michael Monaghan, 8 Adrian Morley, 11 Louis Anderson, 22 Lee Mitchell, 12 Ben Westwood
Subs: 17 Steve Pickersgill, 10 Paul Rauhihi, 21 Matt Blythe, 28 Tyrone McCarthy
T: Bridge (9), V Anderson (61), Riley (74)
G: Bridge 2/3
11 Chris Bridge try, Bridge miss 0/1 0-4
20 Pat Richards try, Richards miss 0/1 4-4
27 Amos Roberts try, Richards goal 1/2 10-4
31 Cameron Phelps try, Richards goal 2/3 16-4
33 Thomas Leuluai try, Richards goal 3/4 22-4
45 Martin Gleeson try, Richards miss 3/5 26-4
47 George Carmont try, Richards 4/6 32-4
57 George Carmont try, Richards 4/7 36-4
61 Vinnie Anderson try, Bridge goal 1/2 36-10
74 Chris Riley try, Bridge goal 2/3 36-16
Referee: Richard Silverwood
Man of the match:
- Sam Tomkins (Wigan) for two pieces of first half genius that turned the game firmly Wigan’s way.
- Vinnie Anderson (Warrington) for continuing to care when all was lost.
Wigan coach,Brian Noble, admitted: “I was concerned that emotionally the team might not be up to speed, but was pleased that the players found the right way to respond. They did some really good things.
“The way they’ve structured the challenge cup runs the risk of derailing your playoff and grand final run in so I think the players deserve a lot of credit for the way they’ve responded.”
“It was a very difficult fixture for us and we couldn’t afford to underestimate them when we were emotionally down, but we fixed a few things that were wrong last week (the semi-final) and we reaped the rewards of that.”
Despite injury ruling out five of the semi-final team Warrington coach, Tony Smith, denied that anyone was rested, with a Wembley appearance looming, saying: “At this stage we’re not going to take risks with our players. There’s maybe one could have played (with injections) but we rested no one. We’re hopeful that most of the injuries will be resolve in time for the final.”
Smith was upbeat about the performance despite the score though, adding: “We’d have liked to have done better, especially in the first half when we struggled to build pressure. We did better in the second half and when we put back to back sets together, we scored tries.
“I Was pleased with the fighting spirit we showed in the second half and some of the younger boys will be better for it as well.”.
But the Wolves will be concerned that talismanic half back, Lee Briers was forced out of the game with Smith admitting: “Lee Briers took a bang (mouth), but were not sure where he’s at right now. He wanted to stay on but medical advice prevailed and he came off.