However, Wakefield Trinity and Wigan Warriors conspired yesterday to produce an enthralling, hard-fought and suitably tense game which made a refreshing change at this time of year. The only problem for Wakefield was they did not manage to eke out a positive result against the reigning champions when their display warranted a point.
Wigan, who had won their fierce Good Friday derby with St Helens, infamously lost here 62-0 12 months ago but just had that little bit extra class at the critical moment this time around.
That said, it was not until young Wigan winger Liam Marshall grabbed his ninth try in seven games as late as the 77th minute – the only score of an absorbing second period – that the visitors could breathe easily.
Wakefield head coach Chris Chester had described his side as “soft” and “clueless” at times during the Good Friday defeat at Castleford when they trailed 36-12 at half-time. However, they were anything but here as they challenged the World Club champions across the park with energy, commitment and vigour.
“I thought we deserved something out of it,” he admitted. “They were two evenly-matched sides and to not come away with anything is disappointing.
“The effort was fantastic, we just lacked any real patience down their end. It was just the final pass and there were four or five penalties in the second half that really hurt us.”
The latter point was certainly true; it was one of those days when few of the 50/50 calls seemed to go Wakefield’s way just when they needed a couple to do just that. Furthermore, they lost second-row Matty Ashurst to a calf tear inside the opening minutes and both fellow forwards Dean Hadley (shoulder) and Micth Allgood (suspected broken hand) departed early, too. Chester added: “We had to do it tough, losing a couple of bodies early doors. We ran out of fit blokes at the end but there are lots to be pleased about.
“I thought we were really physical and defended very well. If we keep playing like that, we will win more than we lose.”
Well-served by the likes of centre Mason Caton-Brown and hard-running prop Keegan Hirst, who both came into the side, and forceful winger Tom Johnstone, they were undoubtedly competitive throughout.
The hosts were the better side in the first half and unfortunate to be 12-10 down at the turnaround. The game was level at 6-6 when centre Anthony Gelling, in his 100th game for Wigan, was sin-binned for a dangerous tackle, lifting Caton-Brown’s leg in the 29th minute before the centre nosedived back to the ground.
However, Allgood fumbled in the next set – something Wakefield did too often when they gained a good attacking position – and the visitors were let off the hook.
Instead, the champions, who had struggled for any decent strike chances aside from captain Sean O’Loughlin’s fifth-minute converted opener, actually went ahead four minutes later when still down to 12 men.
Winger Thomas Davies made a fine kick return to get Wakefield on the backfoot and then England stand-off George Williams crabbed across field before turning back inside to find France full-back Morgan Escare flying though from halfway.
He showed great pace to round Scott Grix and converted his own try as well.
However, when Wakefield forced Wigan’s Ryan Sutton into an error in the visitor’s’ own 20, this time they capitalised.
Liam Finn spread the ball wide for Grix to find enough space to supply Ben Jones-Bishop, the winger who finished well for his sixth try in just five games.
Finn failed to convert from wide out but Wakefield were clearly in the mood.
It was Finn who had kept the ball alive on the last tackle in the ninth minute to create their first try, Grix then finding Ashley Gibson who dinked a perfect grubber through for Grix to collect and twist out of Escare’s tackle to score on his 200th Super League appearance.
Finn again could not add the extras but levelled the game with a 24th minute penalty.
In the second period, Wigan applied most of the pressure but Caton-Brown – in with Gibson for injured centres Joe Arundel and Bill Tupou – produced a timely tackle on Escare and then Wakefield rallied brilliantly to hold up Sam Powell.
It was not until after the hour mark they had any chance of note themselves but, first, Miller and, then, Wood, chose poor options near the Wigan line.
Wakefield Trinity: Grix; Jones-Bishop, Gibson, Caton-Brown, Johnstone; Miller, Finn; Huby, Wood, England, Ashurst, Hadley, Arona. Substitutes: Hirst, Allgood, Kirmond, Fifita.
Wigan Warriors: Escare; Davies, Gelling, Forsyth, Marshall; Williams, Leuluai; Flower, Powell, Tautai, J Tomkins, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Substitutes: Nuuausala, Sutton, Navarette, Gregson.
Referee: Jack Smith (Wigan)