Huddersfield Giants suffered a night of heartache as a lucky Wigan try from Josh Charnley turned a fairytale victory into cruel defeat as the Warriors scrapped home a win 18-13 at the John Smith Stadium.
Where Salford hit St Helens with shock and awe, this game was a more crude affair. In the first twenty minutes Wigan and Huddersfield repeatedly attacked each other, going close but never quite making it to the target. Solid defending on both sides was marred by mistake ridden play that saw momentum swing wildly from one side to the other. Now it was Wigan’s game. Now it was Huddersfield’s game.
Something had to give and something did give. While Huddersfield seemed to have squandered a key opportunity to open up the scoring by using a penalty to go for a try rather than two points, it didn’t matter. Six minutes later a well coordinated series of passes saw the ball reach Jermaine McGilvary on Wigan’s left, who ran straight through a gap in the Warriors’s defensive line to give Huddersfield first blood. When Jamie Ellis converted despite the difficult angle, the nature of the game was changed.
From then on Huddersfield were easily the dominant side as the first half played itself out. Time and again aggressive kicking saw the ball fired down towards Wigan’s try area, either in search of an advantage from a 40/20, or else simply to force Wigan to run a Huddersfield gauntlet that was now extended to cover the entire pitch.
Wigan responded, but not with any of the clever plays that Huddersfield were making. While Anthony Gelling was narrowly denied a try by some decisive defending, Huddersfield needn’t have worried. Every time Wigan got the ball near Huddersfield’s try line, their instinct was to try and pile through where the defence was tightest rather than looking for gaps.
That didn’t change in the second half, with Wigan still playing more brute force tactics than clever rugby. It’s just that when Wigan did choose to play with some thought behind their play, they tended to get something out of it. While John Bateman’s spirited attempt at a breakthrough ended with a knock on giving Huddersfield a free play, Liam Farrell made up for it four minutes later, followed by Matty Smith getting the conversion and giving Wigan some much needed points.
This was not the moment where Wigan announced they’d come onto the pitch a better team than the one which left it at the end of the first half though. For the next thirteen minutes Huddersfield dominated play and Wigan had a lucky escape when Jake Connor was denied a try. Even though his hands were clearly not on the ball when it crossed the line, the decision should rest uneasy with Connor given that he conceded at least four penalties. Still Connor was not to blame for Dom Manfredi getting Wigan’s second try, a try completely against the run of play, in the 57th minute.
Again Smith converted, and now should have been when Wigan took charge of this game and started dictating the pace to Huddersfield. They didn’t. Instead the same brute force Rugby prevailed and not long afterwards Jamie Foster, still on trial with Huddersfield, proved his worth to the Giants by scoring their second try at the end of another brilliant passing game from the home side. Watching was like connecting the dots as Huddersfield kept the ball alive and found their opening on Wigan’s extreme right.
Ellis missed the kick but a penalty soon after gave him a golden opportunity to draw level, which he duly took, adding to his achievements with a drop goal to give Huddersfield the lead. Although that won him the well deserved Man of the match award, it was to prove a hollow victory. One point was too slender a lead for the Giants to hold onto as Wigan showed why it is they’ve been Grand Final contenders three years in a row (and why they’ve lost the last two of those finals).
Manfredi’s fumble after a poor pass from Lewis Tierney was followed by Anthony Gelling attempting a breakout for the line, but having neither the pace nor, crucially, the support to make it home. Wigan kept the ball though and seconds later Josh Charnley turned a well timed pass from Sean O’Loughlin into Wigan’s third try. Smith’s conversion proved the death knell for Huddersfield’s hopes in this game, but their clever, well thought out Rugby that emphasized teamwork and attempts to find gaps in Wigan’s defence was by far the better game tonight. Hopefully they’ll join Salford in the top half of the table this season, and potentially could be play-off contenders.
Based on tonight’s performance they deserve to go farther even than that, but Sport isn’t always about what is deserved. Wigan made up for their ignorance at the end of the game, and their defence was solid enough to ensure the early deficit didn’t become a rout. That combined with their flashes of insight saw them home, though even with Sean O’Loughlin’s note of confidence about ‘close games’ being ‘good prep’, Wigan will need to display a more tactical game next week if they’re triumph against Brisbane.
Featured image from Huddersfield Examiner and used for illustrative purposes only.