AT LAST, some meaningful action on the pitch. Where it matters most.
After all the off-field shenanigans of a fractious winter of discontent, the First Utility Super League finally got underway last night with the excellent Huddersfield Giants duly bringing some light relief.
Well, of course, Ian Lenagan will not have thought that.
Before Huddersfield winger Jermaine McGillvary cruised in for a hat-trick to seal this enthralling opener, the Wigan chairman’s night had already started badly when he was sat next to RFL chairman Brian Barwick and captured on camera looking decidedly stony-faced and miserable.
It was no surprise; Barwick had admonished the Wigan owner – and Salford counterpart Marwan Koukash – earlier in the week via a fiercely-worded press release.
It was a riposte to their continued whingeing about the governing body securing a record-breaking broadcasting deal and such like. You may have heard about it as it has been clogging up everything for a while now.
Anyway, Lenagan will be feeling even angrier today as Wigan prepare to fly out to New Zealand in readiness for their World Club Challenge meeting with Sydney Roosters in a fortnight.
This is because the reigning Super League champions and Challenge Cup holders were utterly outplayed last night.
Huddersfield quickly showed they are intent on remedying their few ills of last season when they finished top for the first time in 81 years only to stutter in the play-offs.
They were sharp and efficient in the first half, especially in defence, and when they wobbled early in the second period recovered quickly.
Paul Anderson’s side should have been more than 12-0 up at the break, Danny Brough unusually having failed to convert any of their three first-half tries from McGillvary (2) and Brett Ferres and then proving off-cue with a drop-goal attempt.
Soon after the restart, the reigning Man of Steel also coughed up a dolly after Joe Wardle’s scorching break.
It mattered not, however, as despite Wigan finally breaking their previously iron-like defence with two quickfire tries via Iain Thornley and Joe Burgess, Matty Smith could not convert either.
Instead, from the re-start after Burgess’s effort, Brough hung a towering kick-off for Michael Lawrence to reclaim and McGillvary completed his treble with 53 minutes gone.
Brough then finally found his range from wide out and the job was done.
Wigan should have been down to 12 men on the hour mark when Matty Bowen – the high-profile Queenslander recruited to replace New Zealand Warriors-bound Sam Tomkins – caught Scott Grix with a high and late tackle as the Huddersfield full-back kicked through.
However, he was merely put on report though it might place his World Club Challenge spot in jeopardy.
Grix recovered sufficiently to race over after supporting Brough’s scampering break with 10 minutes to go, his captain improving again.
For Huddersfield, then, there was plenty to savour with the only downside seeing Larne Patrick carried off with a serious knee injury moments before half-time.
It was not quite as impressive as last season’s stunning opening win at St Helens, but not far away.
Anderson handed starts to two of his new signings – Antonio Kaufusi taking the spot of regular starting prop and Wales captain Craig Kopczak while fellow Australian Chris Bailey locked the pack.
Kaufusi, in particular, offered real presence up front while a trimmed-down Ukuma Ta’ai looked like a new signing such was his transformation from last term.
However, there was no place for their third recruit, England Knights winger Jodie Broughton, although that was perhaps not so surprising given the excellence of both McGillvary and Aaron Murphy in 2013.
They were both shown loyalty by Anderson and McGillvary, in particular, quickly repaid him even if there were a couple of errors in there also.
Wigan had to rejig their initial teamsheet after captain Sean O’Loughlin failed a fitness test on a troublesome leg injury meaning Eddy Pettybourne – the prop who helped light up the World Cup with USA – became one of four debutants after being promoted from the bench.
Polished Huddersfield got off to a swift start, though, when Ferres crossed inside five minutes, the second-row who flourished for England at the World Cup setting Murphy free and then latching onto the winger’s grubber ahead.
McGillvary got his first try from Shaun Lunt’s neat kick after Leroy Cudjoe’s offload and it was England centre Cudjoe’s final pass, after a fine supply from Brough, that rewarded the winger with his second try in the 29th minute.
In between, the visitors’ defence was superb.
Winning here is nothing new, of course.
They actually did the double over Wigan last season, but it was their opponents who produced the only meaningful double – a Super League and Challenge Cup success – and that knowledge is sure to fire on Anderson’s team.
Wigan Warriors: Bowen; Burgess, Goulding, Sarginson, Thornley; Green, Smith; Taylor, Powell, Pettybourne, Clubb, Farrell, Flower. Substitutes: McIIlorum, Hughes, Crosby, Dudson.
Huddersfield Giants: Grix; McGillvary, Cudjoe, Wardle, Murphy; Brough, Robinson; Crabtree, Lunt, Kaufusi, Ferres, Patrick, Bailey. Substitutes: Kopczak, Lawrence, Ta’ai, Wood.
Referee: R Silverwood (Mirfield)