|"The biggest issue I see us having off the back of pre season evidence is still the lack of any last tackle kicking game."|
That's what I wrote to sum up our pre season and that issue was exposed to the max in this opening day defeat to Huddersfield. For me it was the difference between winning and losing this game. It wasn't good enough the kicking game, nowhere near good enough.
Some will point to a weakened Huddersfield but like I said in my match preview, this early in the season, when legs are fresh, injuries are not as big an issue as they would be in the second half of the season. Lest we forget that we went to Huddersfield last season - without Sam Tomkins, Martin Gleeson, Pat Richards, Paul Deacon, Stuart Fielden, Joel Tomkins, Brett Finch and Eamon O'Carroll - and put in similar type of performance to earn a win. Proves the point perhaps?
Or look at this way. That Giants side was still far, far better than the Harlequins side that won away at both St Helens and Leeds early last season before going on to win just 2 of their last 22 matches. Shocks can happen in the early rounds and sadly it was our day to suffer.
I don't think we should be panicking off the back of this loss though. We didn't lose from lack of effort. Our processes in the pack were fine I felt but it was when we went wide that it all fell apart. The passes were way off. Time and again we were throwing balls behind runners. It just never clicked. The ideas were right but the execution let us down. Then if your doing nothing on the last tackle, your struggling aren't ya?
Bottom line is you have to credit the Giants. They played a perfect game plan I felt. The first job was to hang in for the first twenty minutes and they did exactly that. Wigan had a very strong opening to the game territorially but couldn't find the opening score. Best opportunity came when George Carmont got Pat Richards clear down the left but his kick ahead towards the try line was well defended by Danny Brough.
You could visibly see the injury hit visitors rise in confidence the longer they kept us out and eventually they got a spell of territory that they converted into a try. Luke Robinson was killing us from dummy half but it was Scott Grix who found veteran Lee Gilmour with a perfect pass to expose a gap in our defence. Wane will be disappointed with our "D" here because the gap was right up the middle, however Gilmour, who made his career debut for Wigan 15 years ago now, took it well. Conversion for Brough made it 6-0 after 21 minutes.
At this point I wasn't too concerned because I'm stood there thinking that interchanges would give us more than Huddersfield could get out of theirs. Remember the number of interchanges per game have been reduced from 12 to 10 this year so they didn't all come at once but before the half hour mark Eric Lauaki, Ben Flower and Liam Farrell had all come on before we levelled the scores with our first try of the season.
I think Huddersfield were starting to flag a little bit and Wigan finally got them chasing backwards. Eventually the defence folded with Sam Tomkins nifty footwork getting him over close to the posts. Easy Pat conversion for 6-6 on 32 minutes.
Task two of the Giants game plan was now to hang on to half time. Like I said they were flagging a bit, so I was disappointed that Wigan didn't sense this. We should have been going for the kill at this point! Instead we let them get to half time pretty easily, and with a lead because they kicked a penalty goal on 38 minutes from Brough.
I wasn't too worried at half time but how often do I say in these reports that the first try of the second half is often vital in the end result. Task three of the Huddersfield game plan was to give everything into claiming that first try to open up a two score lead, and they did it perfectly.
An awesome try it was too. Perhaps arguments of a knock on and/or forward pass in the build up but I'm a firm believer that hard work reaps rewards of luck. Good kick from Brough was collected by Jermaine McGilvray on the right about 40 metres out. His hack forward caused havoc in the stretched Wigan defence and it was Shaun Lunt who sent Larne Patrick under the sticks, with an easy conversion making it 14-6 after 51 minutes.
Wigan responded by throwing Chris Tuson on but it was fellow second rower Liam Farrell that did the damage as we quickly hit back. He made a superb burst up the middle but although he was stopped in his tracks, the damage had been done. Couple of plays later he was sent under sticks by Brett Finch, easy Pat conversion for 14-12 on 54 minutes.
Now again here Wigan - You've got to be thinking "Don't let them score again"! Why? Because they would lift from it clearly. Sadly they had that two score lead back as quickly has we'd hit back to their try. Patrick claimed his second with a 30 metre burst to the line with Sam Tomkins flapping in defence. Another easy conversion for Brough making it 20-12. That's has to be the biggest concern today. Damage up our middle! That was barely seen under Madge in two whole seasons, so to have three tries conceded today from efforts up the middle is not good.
Now the Giants had their two score lead again, they were on to task four of their game plan. They had risen in confidence off the back of that and it was all about hanging in now as long as they could. With 17 minutes to go I tweeted that next try would win. I know we needed two scores but I felt that if we did get one, we'd get two. Trouble was when we did find a try, it was just a little too late.
It came on 74 minutes, off the back of an excellent break up the trumpet of the Giants defence from Gareth Hock. That was him of old but it was Sean O'Loughlin who claimed the score with a close range barge over in the right corner. The kick was missed by Pat but at 20-16 we now had a Grandstand finish.
4 minutes and 51 seconds remained at the restart but to be honest I do think us nicking a win here would have been an injustice to Huddersfield's effort. Not to say it would have been undeserved on our part, but I would have felt sorry for them had we won. Nearest we came to winning was a kick to the left from Finch towards Pat Richards, but it was brilliantly plucked out the air by McGilvray. Not many players get one over Pat in the air but he did superbly to defend that bomb, a good kick for once. That was sadly it, time ticked down and Huddersfield had claimed the win.
If you followed me on twitter today, one tweet from me read "Lack of leadership here from Wigan. Who'll step up?" and I think that was key. The Giants had an excellent triangle of attack up the middle with Scott Grix, Danny Brough and Luke Robinson all causing problems. We didn't replicate that with Brett Finch, Thomas Leuluai and whoever else.
For me their was three key phases in this game from our point of view. The first 15 minutes, the eight minutes up to half time after Sam's try and just following the Liam Farrell try. That's the phases when we needed to step up a gear and kill the Giants dead in their tracks. Had we got the opening score, I'm convinced we'd have won. Had we got another try before half time, again I'm convinced we'd have won. In fact I think getting the lead at any point would have seen us go on to win. But it was after the Liam Farrell try that I was most disappointed. It was imperative that we just kept things tight for ten minutes or so and made damn sure we didn't let them get a confidence boost from another try. We failed in all those key phases to go for the jugular and you have to point at a lack of leadership from anyone. Pack was doing it's job I think but in your key areas - Stand Off, Scrum Half, Hooker, maybe Loose Forward as well - no one came forward to take control like the men in those positions for Huddersfield did. That's why we lost.
So we have plenty of work to do ahead of next week but like I said earlier in this piece, I'm not too downhearted personally. Yes it was disappointing to lose the game but sometimes you just have to hold your hands up to the opposition. They were superb and deserved their win. Coach Wane said post match that their "were some real positives but some disappointing things we need to fix quickly and we will do". I think that's a fair assessment. The problems are fixable and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see us bounce back and beat Leeds. We shall see.