Hull FC 14 Wigan Warriors 15 - Hardaker puts the boot in as Wigan edge Hull
Having won the away fixture through Marc Sneyd’s golden point drop goal in February, Hull were victims of a similar smash and grab when Zak Hardaker’s one-pointer four minutes from time sealed a precious 15-14 victory for Wigan Warriors.
It was tough on Hull who had fought back from 14-6 behind to level the scores late on. However, after being knocked out of the Challenge Cup at the semi-final stage just five days earlier, their hold on third place in Super League is now looking tenuous.
Wigan remain fourth, but are just two points behind the East Yorkshire side – and Castleford Tigers and sixth-placed Catalans Dragons will be breathing down Hull’s neck if they win this weekend. Though Wigan, benefiting from a two-week build-up, scored two tries to one, Hull contributed fully to an enthralling contest, though the lack of a cutting edge in attack proved decisive.
There were 16 points in the first half, but only one try. Dull, though, it certainly wasn’t.
While scoring opportunities were at a premium, the crowd was treated to the rare spectacle of an ‘eight-point try’ and the temperature was raised further by a skirmish between players as they left the field at half-time.
At that stage Hull were four points behind, having failed to make the most of their superiority in the early exchanges. On a short turnaround, a positive start was important for Hull and twice in the opening stages Wigan players were forced into touch by Hull’s swarming defence, though all the hosts had to show from their early dominance was two penalty goals by Sneyd, after eight and 14 minutes.
Wingers Ratu Naulago and Bureta Faraimo both threatened to go clear from close to the hosts’ line and a series of smart offloads had the visitors stretched, but Hull lacked a final option once they got deep into Wigan’s territory.
For all their early momentum, Hull didn’t ask enough questions of a well-organised Wigan defence and, having weathered the opening-quarter storm, the reigning champions proved more clinical on their first serious attack, after 25 minutes.
Thomas Leuluai kicked to Hull’s left and Liam Marshall made the catch to touch down. Referee Ben Thaler asked his video assistant Robert Hicks for a second opinion and Wigan were awarded not only the try, but also a penalty for a tackle in the air by Faraimo on Marshall in the act of scoring.
Hardaker landed a magnificent touchline conversion, then rubbed some salt into the wound by tagging on the extra two from in front of the posts. The former Leeds and Castleford full-back booted another penalty eight minutes before the interval to open a six-point gap, which was how it stayed until after the hooter for half-time.
Wigan forward Willie Isa was tasked with putting pressure on Sneyd when he kicked from open play and in the final action of the opening period he clouted the scrum-half as ball left boot.
The hooter sounded before Sneyd got up to take the two and there was then an angry exchange between the two players as they left the field, into which several players from either side got involved.
A lack of composure cost Hull at the start of the second half, when they twice turned the ball over early in the count. The second occasion, when Brad Fash lost possession, was just five metres out from the home side’s line and it led to Wigan’s second try, Leuluai and Hardaker creating space for Marshall to go over.
Hull almost came up with an instant response when Naulago counter-attacked from close to his own line. The Fijian flier has pace to burn and was odds on to go the full length of the field, but Tony Clubb, a front-rower, brought him down with a remarkable cover tackle and Kelly knocked on when the ball was offloaded.
From that, Wigan received a penalty when the shot clock ran down at the scrum, another rarity and Liam Byrne got over in the subsequent set, but video official Hicks backed up Thaler’s initial impression that it had been a double-movement.
Four successive penalties, a goal line drop out and a scrum, 20 metres out allowed Hull, who now had Jake Connor – a substitute – playing as a pivot, to apply some concerted pressure to Wigan’s defence and they finally cracked with 13 minutes left.
The try came via a direct route, Scott Taylor barging over from close-range close. Sneyd converted and levelled the scores, nine minutes from time, following a high shot on Mark Minichiello.
The scrum-half missed with two attempts at a one-pointer before Hardaker broke their hearts from 40 metres out.
Hull: Shaul, Faraimo, Griffin, Tuimavave, Naulogo, Kelly, Sneyd, Taylor, Houghton, Green, Minichiello, Lane, Westerman. Substitutes: Connor, Matongo, Fash, Ellis.
Wigan Warriors: Hardaker, Marshall, Sarginson, Gildart, Burgess, Williams, Leuluai, Navarrete, Powell, Partington, Isa, Farrell, Smithies. Substitutes: Clubb, O’Loughlin, Byrne. Unused substitute: Sammut.
Referee: B Thaler (Wakefield).