Wigan Warriors 34 Wakefield Trinity 6: Injury to Tom Johnstone proves costly
WHEN Wakefield Trinity saw Wigan Warriors name their two regular second-rows as starting centres last night, they must have been rubbing their hands in anticipation.
With key personnel injured, their opponents certainly had some selection issues.
Nevertheless, eventually, it was their makeshift centre duo Willie Isa and Liam Farrell who caused Chris Chester’s side all the problems, showing genuine moments of class to help condemn the West Yorkshire club to a second Super League defeat of the season.
Trinity were level 6-6 early in the second period and, while not being particularly incisive, had enjoyed most of the play and caused Wigan plenty of problems.
However, they lost Tom Johnstone - in his 100th career game - to a head injury just before the half-hour mark and, when the England winger failed his HIA and did not return for the second half, Wigan ran riot down his left edge.
Chester was forced into playing back-row James Batchelor at centre with Bill Tupou switching to the wing and they never truly settled into the new roles.
An Aucklander who is renowned for his aggressive and robust style in the pack, Isa showed some lovely touches on his 150th Wigan appearance to help create two tries for winger Jake Bibby who eventually finished with a hat-trick.
Isa is 32 now and some people may have forgotten he first arrived in the UK from Melbourne Storm as a centre in Castleford Tigers colours in 2011.
They were quickly reminded by this deft handling display.
In between those two Bibby scores, Farrell also showed his centre abilities with a stunning run from inside his own 20 to set up the impressive Zak Hardaker for Wigan’s third try.
That said, Chester was furious with how their opponents had been gifted possession.
David Fifita is many things. But he is not a kicker.
Chester was left shaking his head in disbelief when, trailing just 12-6 and applying plenty of pressure, his big Australian prop dubbed in a grubber kick to no effect whatsoever.
Admittedly, Wakefield’s end of sets had not been great previously but, still, they were not so bad that he had to resort to such absurd plays.
It proved costly, too, as it was only moments later that Farrell escaped.
The difference between being 12-6 down and 18-6 is just six points but, in these circumstances, it seemed a whole lot more; Trinity were never in the contest thereafter.
John Bateman, the England star back in Super League after two fine seasons with Canberra Raiders, muscled over from close range to get his first try back in Wigan colours and Wakefield were helpless.
Earlier, there had been much to like about Trinity’s performance as they looked to bounce back from an opening defeat to Leeds Rhinos.
In particular, their goalline defence in one period at the end of the first half was excellent.
Jay Pitts denied Jake Shorrocks with a try-saving tackle, Sam Powell was held up between the posts and Kelepi Tanginoa bundled Bibby into touch as Wigan tried to run on the last tackle.
Furthermore, they did not have trouble making metres on attack.
Unfortunately, they simply lacked slightly in terms of execution and were limited to Fifita’s try in the 20th minute, when he strode out of Isa’s attempted tackle for Mason Lino to convert.
However, Ollie Partington soon got Wigan up and running and - with Johnstone’s departure forcing that rejig - it was Adrian Lam’s side who took control in the second period.
Wigan Warriors: Hardaker; Bibby, Isa, Farrell, Hanley; Leuluai, Hastings; Bullock, Powell, Singleton, Bateman, Smithies, Partington. Substitutes: Shorrocks, Harvard, Byrne, Smith.
Wakefield Trinity: Hampshire; Senior, Lyne, Tupou, Johnstone; Miller, Lino; Fifita, Crowther, Arona, Pitts, Ashurst, Westerman. Substitutes: J Wood, Tanginoa, Batchelor, Green.
Referee: Scott Mikauskas (Leigh)