Well I think 35 consecutive weeks of rugby caught up with Wigan in
this Semi Final at Widnes on Saturday. They simply did not have the
gas to just go that extra yard towards the finishing post did they?
I actually think we should be proud of our efforts in this game. We
were facing a Saints side that had taken two of the last five weeks
off and had also rested Sia Soliola, James Roby, Tony Puletua
and Jamie Foster when they've visited Harlequins. They were far
fresher in the second half, and it showed, yet we weren't that far
away at the end of the day. A 20-12 down we had a good 8 minute
spell in which we battered their line and had we found a try in
that spell, it could have been our day.
I'll just put it this way. Our most experienced prop forward Stuart
Fielden missed pretty much the entire season. Do you think Saints
would have been anywhere near the Grand Final had James Graham
missed the entire season? Would they bollocks is the answer to
that. Also losing Lee Mossop at the crunch end of the season was a
massive blow for us as well I feel. He is my Wigan player of the
season without a doubt. Add in the loss of Ben Cross and the stupid
suspension to the village idiot Gareth Hock and we were just left a
bit short in the pack at the end.
Still it was a brave effort and I sense most Wigan fans are very
content to have got so far. We can only look back on the last 2
years with pride. We'd have snapped the hands off anyone offering a
league and cup when Michael Maguire walked into the club two years
back. The biggest thing Maguire achieved though is that he
got them playing to a consistently good standard week in, week out.
During Brian Noble's time here we won only 54% of matches. Despite
that we were still close pretty close to both Grand and Cup Finals
under him. Maguire though won 77.8% of his matches. That is the
standard that Wigan need to continue to live up to now Maguire is
moving on and a continuation of trophy lifting will be the reward
if they do it!
In this particular match I think Wigan gave their all in the first
20 minutes but they just couldn't keep that standard up. We were
tackling brilliantly and hammering Saints backwards more often than
not. The effort was rewarded on the scoreboard with an early
penalty goal from Pat Richards backed up with a try for Josh
Charnley on 9 minutes. Good grubber kick from Thomas Leuluai was
flapped at by Jamie Foster and Baby Josh took advantage to score in
the corner. Pat couldn't convert though and I think in the long run
this miss proved to be a crucial one.
Our early dominance really needed to have seen us build at least an
8-0 lead, and more probably a 12-0 with another try. Saints coach
Royce Simmons said it all post match when he reflected that "most
sides wouldn't have hung in" from the kind of onslaught Wigan were
putting on them, but the fact they did was gold dust to them at the
back end of the game.
Especially when Lee Gaskell scored to level the scores on 24
minutes. For me the try had been coming. They were starting to get
a roll on and had blown a huge break up the middle just two minutes
before the try actually came. It was no surprise then when Gaskell
went over. He took advantage of a huge hole in the Wigan defensive
line and it with it being close to the sticks, Foster had a routine
conversion for 6-6. Couple of minutes later Foster then added a
penalty goal for 8-6.
For me, it looked like Wigan had shot the bolt already but they
managed to score a try against the run of play to retake the lead.
Territory was gifted when Sio Soliola knocked on, on half way and
after a drop out had been forced, Eamon O'Carroll rolled over to
score from close range in what turned out to be his last Wigan
appearance before he joins Hull next season. Pat converted to give
Wigan a 12-8 lead that they would hold until half time.
Saints had forced two drop outs late in the first half so the signs
still weren't good despite the fact we held the lead. I say it
every week almost in these reports though, the first try after half
time is always a big one and had we got it, it may well have been
our night, sadly though it went the other way.
Luck deserted us at just the wrong moment. Carmont had fumbled the
ball when being tackled on half way but referee Phil Bentham said
"play on". Pat was racing into the corner for what would have been
a massive try but touch judge Robert Hicks got involved and ruled
Carmont had knocked on. I don't think we can really say it was
wrong call but we really did need the luck there because less than
a minute later Paul Wellens was over for Saints and what could have
been an 18-8 Wigan lead was now a 14-12 Saints lead after Foster
Soon after Foster added a second penalty goal for 16-12 but it when
he went on to claim the games next try on 56 minutes that Wigan's
title proved to have slipped away. A penalty helped Saints down
field after Mike McIlorum was penalised for holding down Louie
McCarthy-Scarsbrook. Puletua sent Foster over but although he
missed the conversion, an eight point lead was massive for them. I
made the point in my match preview about how hard it is to chase
down matches in the play offs.
Wigan never gave up though and for next 10 minutes they really gave
their all to try and rescue the game. On 61 minutes Thomas Leuluai
was a bugs dick away but Wellens and Roby held him up short.
Soliola then ankle tapped Harrison Hansen when he looked a certain
scorer under the posts. Those efforts were before Wigan had forced
two consecutive drop outs but Saints managed to survive all that
Another spell of pressure followed on 65 minutes with Charnley
going closed down the left wing but again Saints held us short. A
good kick on the last was put in but unfortunately for Wigan it
fell into Saints hands after hitting the post pad which had been
removed under impact of players chasing the loose ball.
Wigan continued to pile on the pressure but a relieving penalty
conceded by Ryan Hoffman on 68 minutes, for interference, ended our
charge. If we'd have scored in that spell then who knows what might
have happened, but it began to look like only Saints would score
again, and so it proved.
They got the match clinching try on 74 minutes with a typical close
range hookers try from James Roby. Foster converting to make it
Wigan still never gave up. They got a lovely consolation from a
scrum move. O'Loughlin put the kick in and Sam Tomkins won the race
to touch it down but although Pat converted it was too little, too
late. 26-18 with less then three minutes to go was just never on
and the game petered out into the end result - a result which
mirrored the one at the DW two weeks ago.
So the Grand Final ends up being 3rd v 5th. Doesn't seem right to
me and I do feel that next week we'll be crowning the worst
champions for a long, long time. Particularly if it's Leeds because
at least Saints have beaten big teams in the play offs. A Leeds win
though would really piss me off though. Fair enough they deservedly
beat Warrington on Friday but it still grates me that Leeds had to
play Hull in week 1 whilst we played Saints. That doesn't seem
reward for me for winning 6 extra matches in the regular season.
Granted it allowed us a second chance but I'd have swapped
positions with them. That's not Leeds fault but a fault in the play
off system and it does leave a bitter taste. However, I'll be
honest I don't think we'd have won next week, whoever we would have
played. We ended up out of gas and I really think we've do so well
to get so far.
One thing that can't be faulted was the effort of the fans
yesterday. Sung all the way to the end. Fantastic effort. The
"Cherry and White......is in our blood..........ancient and
loyal.......until we die!" ditty went down a storm as well. That's
the kind of chants we need. Nice and simple and to the point and
the best part about that one is that it doesn't get spoiled and
drowned out by the drum!!!!
Finally just a note to say that this report brings to an end of my
10th season writing on this website. I shall be writing a
reflection piece when the dust has settled in a couple of weeks
looking back at the rare highs and many lows during that time. It
may be 10 seasons completed but the 10th birthday of the website
comes next year in March. Someone suggested I should get a
testimonial year lol. Anyway, until next year......