Warrington beat Wigan for the third time in as many months as they rounded off the first day of Magic Weekend at Anfield with a 26-14 win.
Blake Austin came up with a piece of magic just before the hour mark to break Wigan’s resolve and put Warrington back in to a lead that they wouldn’t relinquish.
Austin also pounced on a loose ball to send Toby King away for a length of the field effort which put the game beyond the Warriors, who lost at Magic for the first time since 2008.
After their poor showing at the Nou Camp against Catalans last week, Wigan needed a response and they started encouragingly, defending well and forcing Warrington to kick from deep on the last tackle.
Adrian Lam had been forced in to several changes, captain Sean O’Loughlin lining up at half-back alongside George Williams, and youngsters Morgan Smithies and Oliver Partington joining Jarrod Sammut on the bench.
It took a bit of magic between Blake Austin and Daryl Clark to open up the Warriors defence, the latter being held up a few metres short of the line after 14 minutes.
Wigan worked their way up the Anfield pitch after that and got the first score of the game, Zak Hardaker clipping over a penalty from just left of the posts for 2-0.
The only try of the first half came on 22 minutes and it went to Warrington. Tom Lineham chipped it over the head of opposite number Chris Hankinson close to the touchline and then played the ball inside with his right foot in a style more akin to the usual sport played on this surface, with Dec Patton the gleeful recipient for the first try.
From the kick-off, Wigan were dealt a blow when Joe Greenwood was forced off injured, just as he did at the Nou Camp last week, having come off worse in a collision with Joe Philbin.
Patton added a penalty to make it 8-2 six minutes from half time and moments later, Willie Isa was perhaps fortunate to avoid a sin-binning for a reckless high shot on Jack Hughes.
Warrington got forward again and Ben Murdoch-Masila charged through the line from 20 metres out and was odds on to score a try until Hardaker somehow managed to dislodge the ball and deny the big Tongan meaning the score remained 8-2 at half time.
Wigan started the second half brightly and they pulled a try back on 46 minutes when Joe Burgess took a sharp low pass from George Williams and burrowed his way over.
Six minutes later, it was all square when Hardaker added a penalty after Chris Hill was penalised for a flop on Jarrod Sammut.
The game was finely poised, that was until Austin hit the line like a forward 30 metres out and found a great line to romp by the posts in front of his adoring faithful.
Wigan hit back though, and when a kick fell to Willie Isa, he kept it alive and found Sean O’Loughlin, another high kick claimed by Josh Charnley who was forced behind his own line by Burgess and Gildart.
But Wigan would be broken by the repeat set, a high kick again on the last bouncing in Warrington’s favour, picked up by man of the match Austin and he raced 40 metres before putting King away for what was a telling score.
From there on in, Warrington kept the scoreline ticking over with a number of penalties, Patton ending with seven two-pointers in total and Isa’s late try was scant consolation for the Wigan fans as they headed for the exits in the Kop end.
Three talking points
One game is enough?
By far the largest crowd and noise of the day greeted Wigan and Warrington as they entered the field at Anfield. Magic Weekend is now in its 13th year, and you could argue it’s had its day – not because of the location or the venue, but just because having endless rows of empty seats is not a good look. If you had Wigan playing Warrington at Anfield as a stand-alone game during the season, then the crowd wouldn’t be far off what it was anyway, and it would be a greater occasion for the TV cameras with the stands packed as the Warrington end was, rather than pockets of empty seats even in the lower tiers.
Back to basics for Wigan
When he took over as Wigan coach, Adrian Lam promised to transform the Warriors to play an attacking and attractive style of rugby. It’s not been going great for him and after last week’s disappointment at the Nou Camp, it was clear increased focus had gone on defence, going back to the tried and trusted formula that served predecessor Shaun Wane so well. They were broken by two superb bits of individual play before the interception killed off their challenge.
Just one more time
Today was the third time Warrington have played Wigan this season, since their Grand Final meeting at Old Trafford in October. It’s the 15th time the two sides have met in two and a half years. It’s too many. It’s killing the intensity and the interest. This game didn’t even make it on Sky Sports Main Event. The Wolves have won all three of the meetings in 2019, and given the Warriors’ current form, it’s likely there will only be one more – the regular season visit to Wigan – as they won’t be going head to head in the play-offs.
Line-ups and ratings
Wigan: Hardaker (7), Hankinson (6), Sarginson (7), Gildart (6), Burgess (7), Williams (6), O’Loughlin (6), Flower (6), Shorrocks (7), Bullock (7), Isa (7), Greenwood (6), Clubb (6). Subs: Tautai (6), Smithies (7), Sammut (7), Partington (7).
Tries: Burgess, Isa. Goals: Hardaker 3
Warrington: Mamo (6), Lineham (7), Goodwin (7), King (7), Charnley (6), Austin (8), Patton (7), Hill (6), D Clark (8), Cooper (7), Currie (6), Hughes (7), Philbin (7). Subs: Murdoch-Masila (6), J Clark (6), Akauola (6), Walker (6).
Tries: Patton, Austin, King. Goals: Patton 7
Wigan gave it a good dig and at 8-all the game was finely poised. A bit of magic from Blake Austin broke their resolve and the way Austin then picked up a loose ball to feed Toby King off a Wigan attacking kick to the line just about sums up Wigan’s luck under Adrian Lam.
Warrington managed the game well after that, knowing that Wigan were beaten, and it’s an important two points for them, with Catalans breathing down their necks.
The loss for Wigan means, incredibly, Huddersfield now take over the mantle of most successful team in Magic Weekend history.