Wigan Warriors progress through to the Challenge Cup semi-finals in a 27-26 thriller against Warrington Wolves down at the Halliwell Jones Stadium. It was a Sam Tomkins drop-goal which won the game for Wigan, in what was a Cup classic. Wigan’s season continues as Warrington may have now come to an abrupt end.
RETURNEES, SUNSHINE AND RUGBY
Wigan welcomed back a whole host of players to their squad, with Sam Tomkins, John Bateman, Sean O’Loughlin, Sam Powell, Anthony Gelling and Liam Farrell all making their return. It was one of the strongest Wigan starting line-ups since they beat Cronulla Sharks in the World Club Challenge back in February. For the likes of Tomkins and Bateman, who had been out for a long time, it was a tough game to make your comeback.
What didn’t help the returnees was the blazing sunshine, it was tough out there, in that heat. Warrington welcomed back a couple of players themselves, with Ryan Atkins and Kurt Gidley making their return. Kevin Brown was also in the squad, but pulled out during the warm-up after injuring his foot. It was an early blow for the Wolves, but with young Declan Patton coming into the stand-off role, it didn’t leave them short of quality.
The game was very even to start off with, and both sides were just trying to settle into the contest. They traded sets for the opening 10 minutes and didn’t do much else. Finally, in the 11th minute, Wigan got the game’s first try through Joe Burgess. It was a lovely move, that went through the hands O’Loughlin, S.Tomkins and Oliver Gildart before finding the England international Burgess, who finished off in the corner. Wigan led 6-0.
It took another 10 minutes before the games next try, which was again scored by Burgess. It was another superb try, as Ryan Sutton managed to get the ball away as he was being tackled, and the ball was whipped out wide to Burgess who flew in the corner. Wigan now led 12-0 as George Williams had kicked two tricky conversions which received a bigger cheer from the Wigan fans, than either of the tries.
Wigan wasn’t helping themselves throughout the half, as they were giving Warrington plenty of chances to get back into it, with some rather poor handling errors. I lost count the amount of times they knocked on in their own half. In the 27th minute, Warrington finally managed to take one of their chances when Ryan Atkins rose highest from an inch-perfect Kurt Gidley kick. It was a much-welcomed try for the Wire, as they now trailed 12-6.
Only five minutes later, Atkins scored his second of the game. It was from another kick, but this time it was young Declan Patton, who just dinked a lovely grubber through, and Atkins was first on scene, and the scores were level at 12-12 with just over five minutes left in the half. Wigan had only themselves to blame, as a mixture of errors and poor discipline gifted Warrington the chance to make a comeback.
BOTH SIDES GAVE IT THEIR ALL
Even after back-to-back tries, Warrington still seemed second best, and it still felt like it was Wigan’s to lose. Liam Marshall would get his customary try against Warrington just before halftime, following some soft defence from Atkins. Williams kicked his third conversion and Wigan led 18-12 at halftime. It had been a tough, nervous encounter, which Wigan had the better of, but Warrington were only one converted try behind. It was all to play for.
The second half started, and you sensed the next try was a huge one for either side. However, the next points were to be a Williams penalty, as Wigan extended their lead to 20-12 with still 30 minutes to go. Warrington began to put some pressure on the Wigan line at this stage, and the game was starting to become a much more even contest. It was in the 56th minute when Andre Savelio powered his way over for the games next try.
Warrington heads were up, and just five minutes later, they levelled the game once again following a Patton penalty-goal. The game was on a knifes-edge at 20-20 with just 15 minutes remaining. Only minutes later, on his return, John Bateman scored a blinding solo effort as he cut inside and went under the posts for a crucial try. Williams kicked the simple conversion, and Wigan led 26-20 with just over 10 minutes to go.
YOU COULDN’T HAVE WRITTEN A BETTER FINISH
As the game entered its final 10 minutes, no one could have predicted what was to follow, it was simply astonishing. Both sides looked nervous, and there were some edgy sets being played out. In the 73rd minute, Sam Tomkins slotted over a match-winning drop-goal to put Wigan seven points ahead with just over five minutes to go. However, Warrington didn’t give in, as there was still a lot of drama to come in this one.
With just four minutes to go, Warrington where given a lifeline as Kurt Gidley crossed over for their second try of the half to put Wire just one point behind at 27-26. From the kick-off, Burgess booted the ball out on the full and suddenly Warrington had a chance to win the game with a last-minute penalty-goal attempt from the half-way line. Ratchford stepped up, and had more than enough power on the ball, but was just off with the accuracy.
They had 50 seconds left to try and salvage something from the game. Then, the ball found the hands of Patton who was smack bang in front of the posts, just 10 yards out, and he sent his drop-goal attempt wide, as the hooter sounded. Wigan and Warrington players fell to their knees with a complete difference of emotions, as Wigan finished up 27-26 winners, and booked their place in the Challenge Cup semi-finals, in the most dramatic fashion.
Warrington Wolves head coach Tony Smith:
“We were very close in a couple of ways but I suppose when you look back over the game a few of those errors have cost us.
“The spirit was there, they had a real crack, some of my boys were carrying some stuff there. Character-wise, I can’t be critical.
(On Patton’s late miss) “It’s all part of the learning process and that’s how you become a great player of the future. He’ll get better from it, he did some really good things for us today.”
Wigan Warriors head coach Shaun Wane:
“We could easily have lost that which would have been frustrating because I thought we did enough to win it comfortably.
“We gave ourselves a lot to do, cheap plays, unforced errors and the penalty count was against us again. So, I’ll have a look at that and our discipline in a serious manner.
“Warrington were never going to lie down, they showed a lot of desire to stay in that game and makes that victory a bit more sweeter.”
IN THE SHEDS
Warrington Wolves lost Kevin Brown before a ball was kicked. The stand-off injured his foot during the warm-up and was unable to take any part. He was replaced by Declan Patton.
Wigan Warriors lost Thomas Leuluai in the sixth minute due to a head knock. He left the field for a head test and later returned in the 20th minute.
There was one incident during the game that may be looked at by the RFL. Stefan Ratchford’s deliberate trip on Sam Tomkins that went unpunished by referee Ben Thaler.
Warrington Wolves: (12) 26
Tries: Atkins (2), Savelio, Gidley
Conversions: Patton 4/4
Penalty: Patton 1/1, Ratchford 0/1
Wigan Warriors: (18) 27
Tries: Burgess (2), Marshall, Bateman
Conversions: Williams 4/4
Penalty: Williams 1/1
Drop-goal: Tomkins 1/1
Warrington Wolves: Ratchford, Dagger, Hughes, Atkins, Lineham, Patton, Gidley, Cooper, Clark, Sims, Jullien, Philbin, Westerman.
Interchanges: Dwyer, King, Savelio, Wilde.
Wigan Warriors: S. Tomkins, Marshall, Gelling, Gildart, Burgess, Williams, Leuluai, Nuuausala, McIlorum, J. Tomkins, Bateman, Farrell, O’Loughlin.
Interchanges: Isa, Sutton, Powell, Tautai.
Referee: Ben Thaler
Venue: The Halliwell Jones Stadium, Warrington
Date/Time: Saturday 17th June 2017 – 15:00pm GMT