Sadly the result didn't go our way but like coach Michael Maguire I too am extremely proud of the lad's effort in that game. They gave their all and it too St George-Illawarra's great credit that what Wigan produced wasn't enough to win.
I'm sure I'm not the only Wigan fan left thinking of what might have been. The absences of Jeff Lima (to suspension) and Stuart Fielden (who failed a fitness test earlier in the day) left a huge hole in our front row but boy didn't Andy Coley, Paul Prescott and Lee Mossop play out of their skins. Coley in particular was immense I thought.
Losing Martin Gleeson in the 38th minute (after he had passed a fitness test earlier in the day) was another key blow. That reduced our interchange options and together with the absences of Lima and Fielden I think it just left us without enough punch off the subs bench in the final quarter of the game. It was also an pretty young and inexperienced bench. I mean neither Lee Mossop or Chris Tuson played in last year's Grand Final. I'm pretty convinced that if just one of Lima and Fielden had been on the park we would have found a try in the last 20 minutes but we never will know will we.
You can't fault anyone for effort in the Wigan side though. The only real finger point for me was our right side defence but Brett Morris is a quality player and he makes those kind of efforts week in, week out in the NRL.
Wigan got off to a perfect start with a try after just 72 seconds. St George received the kick off but a big hit from George Carmont on Beau Scott forced an immediate knock on to give Wigan possession twenty metres out. On the last, Paul Deacon put the bomb up towards the left and Carmont out leaped the tiny Jamie Soward to score the try. Deacon then converted to make it 6-0.
On the next set Wigan had the Dragon's on the rack again with Nathan Fien penalised by referee Thierry Alibert for a high shot on Coley. Now it's easy in hindsight but at the time I thought we should have kicked for touch and gone for the try. Us Wigan fan's have plenty to be happy about since Michael Maguire became our coach but one thing we've never done since he came here is find a killer touch in big games. We saw it time and time again at DW Stadium last year (Saints, Warrington, Huddersfield, Leeds in the play offs). We get off to great starts in all those games but not putting enough points on the board early came back to haunt us. I think taking the penalty goal let St George off the hook. Still I'd take an 8-0 lead inside four minutes in any game.
Wigan had another chance to turn the screw a couple of minutes later when Jason Nightingale knocked on in mid field but he won possession back by forcing a knock on in the tackle from Carmont.
The Dragons had starved themselves of possession in the opening 8 minutes but a soft knock on from Gleeson, twenty metres from our line, gave them their first attack and they punished. A wild offload by Darius Boyd fell kindly for Matt Cooper and he sent Morris over in the left corner. Jamie Soward couldn't convert, leaving the score 8-4 to Wigan after ten minutes.
The contest began to settle down and get bogged down in midfield but a penalty, conceded for not standing square, gave the Dragons a second opportunity to score and again they took it. Cooper scored it from close range with Sam Tomkins and Thomas Leuluai unable to stop him. Soward converted to give St George an 10-8 lead after 16 minutes.
Notice the tactics from the Dragons, two penalties kicked for touch and bang, bang two tries on the board. Wigan got a chance to do that in the 21st minute after Beau Scott was penalised for lying on, but rather than go for a try they went for goal again.
Has it turned out Deacon missed the penalty but we ended up with a try anyway. From a 20 metre drop out Wigan went left. Harrison Hansen threw a poor pass to ground but Carmont scooped it up and raced 60 metres to finish a brilliant try under the posts. Not bad for a 32 year old. He has been outstanding yet again so far this year. Questionable that Hansen's pass was forward but I'm not so sure looking at the replay's that it was. Anyway Deacon had an easy conversion to make it 14-10 to Wigan after 22 minutes.
That was a rare clean break in this game. In fact I can hardly remember their being any but for that one. It was all defence with the opportunities to score coming from errors or penalties. Sadly Wigan shot themselves in the foot again. Hansen was penalised for a ball strip and the Dragons again attacked left. Darius Boyd and Ben Hornby combined to send Morris over for his second try. He showed great upper body strength to barrel over the top of both Sam Tomkins and Thomas Leuluai. Soward couldn't convert so that meant the scores were level at 14-14.
With time ticking towards half time Wigan began to suffer with injuries. Gleeson came off in the 38th minute with his hamstring trouble proving to be a gamble that didn't pay off. Joel Tomkins switched to centre to replace him. Sean O'Loughlin also came off in the 32nd Minute. I assume he was injured because he never usually get's interchanged but he did return later.
Despite those forced interchanges Wigan finished the first half strongly. An attack on the 36th minute saw Wigan right on the Dragon's line but Deacon wasted the last tackle option with a woefully off target kick into touch. Then with a minute to go, Mark Gasnier knocked on in his own half and with 15 seconds remaining Sam Tomkins coolly slotted over a drop goal. It's amazing that Wigan didn't kick a one pointer at all last season, that was our first one since Sam dropped on at Castleford in August 2009.
It had been a breathtaking first half of non stop action with Wigan holding the narrow 15-14 lead. Apart from Carmont's second try, all the scores in the match had come from errors. In the second half both sides tightened up the mistakes and with defences well on top, the first try was going to be crucial.
Unfortunately for us it was the Dragon's who claimed it. The try actually game from a mistake again but it would be harsh to criticise Darrell Goulding for knocking on trying to take an intercept. Lucky for St George that he did knock on because had he gathered he might have been racing the full length for a try. They got a scrum ten metres out and soon after Cameron King scored from close range. Again, good upper body strength to beat Lee Mossop and Paul Prescott. Soward converted to make it 20-15 to them.
24 minutes remained but with clean breaks being at a bigger premium than the current petrol prices it was proving tough to get near to scoring, never mind actually getting over. On 65 minutes we did get right on the goal line and tried attacking left, then right but St George survived. Good last tackle option from Sam Tomkins but his dink into the in goal just went dead before O'Loughlin could pounce.
Opportunities for St George were limited in that time as well but they did manage to get a clean break down the left. Joel Tomkins was caught out in defence and Matt Cooper went through the gap, he found Morris on the outside but Joel did well to recover ground and just about tap his ankles. Damage had been done though, Soward converted the territory into a drop goal, which made it 21-15.
Ten minutes remained and the drop goal didn't really take the pressure off the Dragons. It was still a one try lead and Wigan never gave up the chase. An error in the in goal from Nightingale on 74 minutes forced a drop out, but Deacon couldn't take in an inside pass from Hansen.
Then in the 77th minute came our final attack. Sam Tomkins put in a neat kick forward towards the try line but was taken out by Darius Boyd. Was too far out for penalty try to be considered but the resulting penalty gave us a perfect opportunity to score. Coley went oh so close and he would have deserved a try for his efforts. The Dragons were desperately hanging on, literally. I think Matt Cooper should have been sin binned for lying all over Coley. Referee Alibert, who overall had a good game I felt, gave us a second penalty and although O'Loughlin went close, a dreadful pass from Amos Roberts straight into touch ended the contest. The Dragon's saw out the final two minutes and claim their first ever World Club Challenge.
For me I wasn't gutted that we lost. We gave our all and lost to a team that was just a bit more clinical. Like I said I think with a bit more experience on our bench we'd have at least forced extra time I reckon but like I said, we will never know.
A cracking night followed up town. Plenty of pissed fans from both clubs in the old Walkabout down King Street. I do recall I was dancing on a table in there but the night descended into a late night blur of how the hell did I get home. Oh and I've no idea why I gave my last year's home shirt to one of the Dragons fans for nothing in return but I hope he like's the souvenir. I'm nice like that. Not sure why he would want a shirt smelling of beer, sweat and cheap supermarket deodorant to try and disguise it all but their you are. I didn't even claim a pint for it, which is not like me at all.
Overall us Wigan fan's should be pleased that we had a night like that again. The stadium was pretty much full with an awesome atmosphere. It'll be a bit of a comedown to play Salford away on Friday Night at The Willows won't it!