Wigan Warriors moved up to third in Tetley's Rugby Super League
with a 30-14 win at Wakefield on Wednesday night, but needed three tries in the
final 15 minutes to overcome a plucky Wildcats side.
The Warriors, playing four days after their Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Challenge
Cup win, were without four of their Final team, and they led only 6-2 at the
break after Julian O'Neill's try and penalties for Andrew Farrell and Ian Knott.
Adrian Lam's 47th minute score extended the lead to 12-2 but, rather than
buckle, the Wildcats hit back with two Gareth Ellis tries in the space of eight
minutes to put them two points ahead on the hour.
But Brian Carney put Wigan back ahead on 65 minutes, and O'Neill's second try
sealed the win before David Hodgson's score sent them enough points in front to
enable them to jump up four places in the table with the win.
Wigan's Cup Final celebrations obviously played a factor in their below-par
performance, but the influence of props Terry O'Connor and Craig Smith was
crucial to their cause.
With Ricky Bibey being ruled out following a car crash, the duo were afforded
only short breaks, with both of Wakefield's scores coming with O'Connor off the
And the brace of tries for Aussie stand off Julian O'Neill confirmed that he
is beginning to hit his straps.
In fact it was the former North Queensland Cowboys player who opened the
scoring after 15 minutes of the game, bursting through Kris Tassell's attempted
tackle after Lam's pass to race 20 yards to the corner.
In the wet conditions - the pre-match entertainment and much of the first
half was dominated by a heavy downpour - free-flowing handling was difficult to
come by, and the Wildcats cut the gap to 4-2 with a Knott penalty following a
On the half hour, former Huddersfield and Penrith winger Andrew Frew, making
his Wildcats debut, was called upon to produce a fine try saving tackle on Jamie
Ainscough following Lam's break and clever reverse pass.
The Warriors, though, did manage to stretch the lead a little before the
break, when captain Andrew Farrell slotted over a penalty following interference
on Craig Smith.
Wigan came straight out of the blocks in the second half determined to rid
themselves of any hangover and become the first team since St Helens in 1996 to
double up with a win following a Challenge Cup Final victory.
A minute after the restart, O'Neill sent stand-in centre David Hodgson
through a gap, although the former Halifax man was unable to find the support
with his pass after drawing Martyn Holland.
However, on 47 minutes, O'Neill went through a gap himself, found Stephen
Wild in support before the young back rower sent Lam diving under the posts,
Farrell converting for 12-2.
Five minutes later, substitute Martin Moana's grubber was spilled by Brett
Dallas over his own line, and young centre Gareth Ellis pounced to score for the
Wildcats, Knott converting to lift the Belle Vue crowd.
Wood missed with a drop goal attempt as he looked to cut the gap to three
points, but that was irrelevant on the hour when Moana sent Ellis away on the
right before the youngster cut infield from fully 40 yards.
He showed a clean pair of heels to Warriors full back Gary Connolly before
gleefully diving under the posts - a fine way to celebrate his 21st birthday
this coming Friday.
Knott converted and, at 14-12, a shock suddenly seemed on the cards, but
swift hands from Sean O'Loughlin and Hodgson created the space for Brian Carney
on the right with a quarter of an hour remaining.
The Irish winger then drew Holland before chipping over, collecting the ball
and racing behind the posts.
Lam's long kick then saw both Carney and Wildcats winger George Truelove miss
the ball before Hodgson picked up and sent O'Neill in at the corner for his
With Farrell's excellent conversion, the Wildcats had gone from 14-12 up to
24-14 behind within the space of four minutes.
They searched for the try which would have brought them back into the game,
but the only remaining score was to come from Wigan, when Carney tapped on
another Lam kick and Hodgson touched down.
That gave the scoreline the winning margin which Wigan needed to move up to
third, but probably did not deserve following a great effort from the Wildcats.
"I've got to give a rap to all those who played 80 minutes on Saturday and
another 80 tonight but I've got to mention Terry O'Connor and Craig Smith, who
were outstanding," said Wigan coach Stuart Raper.
"We were always going to be up against it. If you had seen the guys on Monday
morning, you would have put a fiver on Wakefield.
"It shows that we can back up. These are the games you remember when you look
back. They are what makes you a great side. We really toughed it out."
However, his Wakefield counterpart, Peter Roe, was disappointed that his side
could not see off Wigan's challenge when they surged into the lead.
"I'm disappointed that the players didn't show the killer instinct," revealed
Roe. "It was a winnable game and, if Wigan were ever there to be beaten, they
were when it was 14-12.
"But we're making progress. The guys are starting to believe in themselves a