AKA Reversal of Fortune
Like the Bradford-Wakey game earlier in the day, this was a game in which the margin of victory could have been both a lot larger and also a lot smaller. Wigan were comfortably the better side for pretty much the entire duration of the game, but they also denied Saints at rather key intervals during the match just as they looked like they might be sneaking back into it. In the end though, it was a pretty comprehensive victory and one that showed Wigan are still contenders this season, even if they have given away a massive headstart.
Wigan had all their forwards seemingly peak on the same day, which was a major factor in their victory. Stuart Fielden was on a tear, Andy Coley was a workhorse in the middle, and Feka Pa’aliasena and Gareth Hock caused mayhem whenever they touched the ball. Conversely, there was alarmingly little fight in the Saints pack bar James Graham, who actually seemed to make more of a contribution with his passing game than with his hit-ups. Saints really seemed off the pace and looked laborious and jaded. Wigan absolutely dominated the tackle area, which in turn meant they were able to take advantage out wide; this is a reversal of almost every other Wigan-Saints game in the past 3-4 years.
It also helped that Wigan seemed far more composed. As well as Tim Smith and Thomas Leuluai leading them around the park, Shaun Tomkins came off the bench and again made a massive impact (in defense as well – his cover tackle to prevent Sean Long scoring was one of the turning points of the game, and again reduced the credibility of those who claim he is too small for the pro game). Saints looked flat and flustered for the majority of the game, and for the second week in a row managed to blow about thirty metres of field position on the final tackle. I know there’s a perception that Saints play off-the-cuff, but this has always been launched from a base of solid, calculated play that seems to have vanished in the last few weeks.
The fact that the margin of victory was only 20 points shows that Wigan still have some improvements to make. Compared with the massacres that Saints had inflicted upon them in the past few seasons where it was a non-stop barrage for the whole game, Wigan seemed to take their foot off the accelerator towards the end of the game instead of rubbing it in. Mind you, I suppose 20 points isn’t a too shabby margin of victory. The game (along with the defeat to Bradford) also exposed what might be the major flaw with Saints at the minute: they don’t seem to have that sixth gear when things start going wrong. For all Eddie and Stevo’s talk of ‘beware the Saints’ comeback’ I’m not sure that this particular outfit are that sort. When they tried to up the pace and spread it wide it kept falling apart, either because they knocked it on or because they ran into a defensive brick wall. I still expect Saints to be contesting for a Grand Final spot in October, but I’m now thinking that this season may be closer that first suspected. On today’s performance, it wouldn’t surprise me if Wigan were one of the sides challenging them.