256 days after they last played at DW Stadium in this
covid infested season, Wigan returned home for a play off semi final
against Hull FC, albeit still with an absence of any attendees.
29-2 looks like this was a walk in the park victory
but for the opening half hour it was keenly contested battle with Hull
rattling Wigan on a few occasions and probably looking more likely to
add to the 2-0 lead they got in the 13th Minute after Marc Sneyd kicked
Indeed they had a try chalked off for interference
just before a big moment came when Willie Isa knocked on in the 24th
Minute but Wigan ended up getting a penalty because Josh Griffin decided
to celebrate by taunting Oliver Partington with four pats of the head.
Wigan, indeed Partington himself, have been guilty of that in the past
and I'm all for the referees penalising it. Even though I felt those
tactics that Hull were using were working slightly.
That said its a big assumption to make that Hull were
going to get on top of Wigan because although they would have been value
in my opinion for 6-0 or 8-0, it discounts the fact that Wigan's
defence in this game was outstanding. The longer it went on the more
that defence swarmed all over Hull like bees round honey. It never
relented and Hull just couldn't find any rhythm.
I felt generally that Wigan had control once the
interchanges came in. Wigan had mass experience of play off rugby to
call upon in captain Sean O'Loughlin, Tony Clubb and Ben Flower. We may
be reaching the final twinklings of all three of those players time in
Wigan colours but all three know what this stage of the season is about.
Flower actually left the field injured but the point still remains.
For Wigan to get going though in terms of points they
had to find some real quality plays down the left. First a beautiful bat
on by Oliver Gildart from Harry Smith's pass got Joe Burgess over on 27
minutes. Then Burgess kicked inside on a great passing move to enable
Smith to claim the second try in the 33rd Minute. That second effort was
so pinpoint in it's accuracy and it needed to be, the margins of error
in the passing and the touchline were very small.
Hardaker converting both was huge for 12-2 and Wigan
just needed to keep calm and see the clock to half time. Smith adding a
drop goal for 13-2 right on the hooter was very mature. That said
earlier in the half Smith had started nervously - kicking out on the
full, conceding a cheap penalty and getting away with jumping out the
defensive line I recall very early on. Forgotten things in light of a
29-2 win but had Hull found that try for 6-0 or 8-0 its a more costly
So 13-2 was a good half time lead but caution could
be found by remembering this stage of the play offs in 2016 when Wigan's
14-0 half time lead became an 18-16 to Hull on the hour. We still won
but that highlighted the importance of the first try of the second half.
Wigan getting it after just four minutes was huge.
Bevan French had a quiet first half in attack but he was back on it to
cause problems going right and Zak Hardaker was found with a pass on a
reverse angle run that saw him clear through to the posts from 30
metres. Easy conversion for 19-2 and that, despite 36 minutes remaining,
I declared on commentary should be enough.
To be fair it took 30 minutes for Wigan to finally
nail the door shut and Hull never gave up in spirit but although they
did get close making a break on one occasion, Sneyd was denied by a
wonderful try saving tackle by French who easily made up a four stride
start. Hull just didn't have any real answers to Wigan's energetic
Eventually the enthusiasm was extinguished and Wigan
found two late gloss tries with first Jake Bibby scoring in the right
corner before French completed the victory with his 17th try of the
Captain Sean O'Loughlin refused to end his home
career with a kick at goal but was given a guard of honour as he left
the DW field for the final time. What a shame no fans could see that but
he will probably be glad with that minimal attention with the bigger
issue of a Grand Final to come.