Arch-rivals revel in Wigan’s decline

Listen to this article

00:00
00:00

The combination of Saints and Good Friday inevitably induces thoughts of martyrdom and Wigan duly continued their Calvary, pinned even more firmly to the bottom of Super League by their ancient rivals.

While Great Britain coach Brian Noble is due to arrive as Wigan’s designated miracle worker, this resurrection will take more than three days.

The sight of this great club at the bottom induces thoughts that, like a Spanish newspaper when Real Madrid got off to a slow start, somebody has printed the table upside down.

It is akin to Manchester United being bottom of the Premiership, with the difference that Wigan have been much more successful. They have won so many trophies, including consecutive runs of eight Challenge Cups and six doubles in the immediate pre-Super League era, that they do not bother to list them all on the club website.

Such dominance is of course unsustainable. Even the greatest reign must end some day. And it can be argued that Wigan’s current miseries are rooted in that period of triumph. It helped induce the Super League era in which other clubs have also gone full-time, and ultimately ran Wigan into the ground financially, forcing the sale of its aged Central Park fortress and a move to groundshare at the JJB Stadium with Wigan Athletic. The soccer club’s unprecedented success has also underlined the Warriors’ failure this year.

Ill-luck, too, has played its part. Andrew Farrell, an incomparable leader, was injured before he went off to rugby union, Kris Radlinski has been forced to retire and the youthful promise of loose forward Gareth Hock and prop Paul Prescott was laid low by long-term injuries.

But a club that goes through nine coaches in 10 years, with Ian Millward the latest victim this week, can hardly be deemed to be helping itself. Playing “Stand by Your Man” on the public address yesterday may have been a Freudian slip – after all Saints themselves fired Millward less than a year ago. But there was no coincidence about the gleeful choruses of “going down, going down” from Saints fans who suffered more, by virtue of proximity and historic rivalry, than the rest of rugby league during Wigan’s era of hegemony.

Perhaps the most alarming thing about St Helens’ ninth consecutive win, opening up a four-point gap at the top of Super League, is that they were some way from their free-flowing best. They were 18-0 up at the break – Paul Sculthorpe, Paul Wellens and former Wigan star Sean Long all crossing for scores converted by Jamie Lyon, an Australian centre of the quality formerly seen in Wigan teams.

When winger Ade Gardner crossed within two minutes of the re-start the deluge seemed imminent but a spirited third quarter by Wigan postponed until a burst of four tries in 12 minutes produced the expected scoreline. Ian Hardman, Jason Hooper twice and Leon Pryce were the scorers while Lyon completed a perfect day with the boot.

Wigan lacked physical presence – worrying for Noble, whose success at Bradford has been based on powerful packs – imagination, guile and most importantly confidence.

If there is light at the end of the tunnel it comes in the form of winger Chris Ashton, 19, who – like the fans who loudly proclaimed their undying allegiance at the end – refused to be demoralised by the inadequacy around him.

Two corner-flagging tackles on Hardman and a never-say-die chase to challenge Jason Cayless as he crossed, dislodging the ball from his hands, denied Saints three scores, and Ashton claimed one himself, racing 60 yards down the right in the 51st minute. Jordan James scored Wigan’s late try.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved. You may share using our article tools. Please don't copy articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.