WIGAN WARRIORS’ Joe Burgess recaptured some of his old England form to crucially blast holes that left Castleford Tigers always chasing last night.
The winger gave Daryl Powell’s side all sorts of problems, twice making long-range breaks to help set up two tries for Oliver Gildart.
Granted, Castleford, who recovered from 14-2 down to trail just 14-12 at the break, were still always in the contest.
But after Sam Tomkins’s 40/20 kick led to England stand-off George Williams stepping over in the 57th minute, they fell 24-12 behind and – given their laxness with the ball – it would always prove difficult from there.
They had chances but, too often, their control was found wanting; they swept past Catalans Dragons 41-0 on Sunday but these opponents were a different proposition entirely.
Jake Webster, the usually reliable Kiwi centre, had a wretched night especially in defence but he also made two knock-ons when in good position.
He was not alone; Adam Milner made an excellent break near the death only to fumble when playing the ball. It summed up the West Yorkshire club’s night.
Instead, when Garry Lo – the Papuan winger who scored on his Super League debut with James Clare injured – spilled coming out of his own 20, Tony Clubb barged over in the 76th minute to make sure.
Still, hooker Paul McShane – tireless as ever for Castleford –chased down winger Liam Marshall in the final moments to show the spirit running through this Tigers side.
However, spirit alone was not enough last night against an excellent Wigan team.
Wigan won 9-8 at champions Leeds Rhinos last week and here dispatched the League Leaders Shield holders to solidify their place in second just behind leaders St Helens.
The way the game started must have left England rugby union head coach Eddie Jones – a guest of Wigan chairman Ian Lenagan – feeling right at home.
Strangely, there were three penalty attempts at goal in the opening 12 minutes.
For all the sides were expected to be evenly-matched, the last thing anyone really expected was them being so conservative from the off.
Anyway, Luke Gale opened the scoring first and, though Sam Tomkins was wide with his first effort, he wasn’t with his second.
In between, ex-Sheffield Eagles star Lo almost got his debut off to a dream start by hacking on a loose Wigan pass and charging up the field but Williams got back to mess up his hopes of a try. That feat would come later.
However, it was the hosts who took control with two ruthless tries down their left edge.
First, Burgess, having switched to centre, bumped off Webster – not many players do that to the 34-year-old – and surged clear from his own half.
Greg Minikin, the Castleford winger, did marvellously to chase down the former England winger but a quick play-the-ball meant his effort was rendered worthless; Gildart skipped in the final five metres untouched from dummy-half.
Webster was then harshly penalised for blocking a Wigan chaser at a kick – he had his back turned and was blissfully unaware – to set up position for their second try.
That said, Benny Roberts will be disappointed allowing Liam Farrell to hit and twist out of his attempted tackle from 20m out, the ex-England second-row then acclerating in.
Sam Tomkins improved both for the 14-2 lead after 24 minutes but, once Castleford earned a couple of penalties to gain some position of their own they were able to make a mark.
Oli Holmes cut a lovely line to angle over off Gale’s short pass to get them started.
They then had to scramble again, however, as Sam Tomkins made a scything break from deep to feed Gildart once more.
Minikin, again, tore back to deny him with help from McShane but Tigers were still slightly fortunate.
At the next play, Lo misjudged the flight of Williams’s crossfield kick and John Bateman seemed certain to score only to cough up the final ball.
Within seconds, the visitors were in at the other end, Jake Trueman – again belying his teenage years at full-back – showing great precision to find the right pass for Lo to cross in the 37th minute.
Gale could not improve the second effort but Castleford were just two points behind at the break.
Nevertheless, the second period got off to the worst possible start as Burgess – again having come inside to centre – this time went around Webster to sprint 60m field downfield.
Gale did remarkably well to cut across and deny him but Gildart was in support again for the try. Just 72 seconds were on the clock.
Tomkins was off target with the kick but it did not matter.
Lo thought he had got over for a second try but Willie Isa – the former Castleford back-row –forced the winger into dropping as he stretched for the corner.
Wigan Warriors: Tomkins; marshall, Bateman, Gildart, Burgess; Williams, Powell; Clubb, Leuluai, Flower, Isa, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Substitutes: J Tomkins, Sutton, Tautai, Navarrete.
Castleford Tigers: Trueman; Minikin, Webster, Shenton, Lo; Roberts, Gale; Watts, McShane, Massey, Holmes, Wardle, Foster. Substitutes: Millington, McMeeken, Milner, Cook.
Referee: Robert Hicks (Oldham).