Quins RL moved up to fifth in the Super League following yesterday’s 18 – 8 home win against the Wigan Warriors, but will now be bracing themselves for a backlash when they visit the Warriors on Friday night in the Challenge Cup.
It was Wigan who started brightest when Pat Richards jinking run bamboozled some hesitant Quins defence to create a space for departing fullback Chris Ashton to go over for the opening try just seven minutes in. Richards was unable to add the conversion but the home fans were set on edge by an early period of dominance from the visitors which saw Richards miss another shot on goal, this time for a penalty, after fifteen minutes.
Quins were to overhaul the deficit shortly before the half-hour mark when Matt Gafa, playing in an unfamiliar second-row role found a hole to out in centre Paul Sykes. Sykes added the extra two points and then another two shortly after for a penalty to send the Quins in 8 – 4 up.
It was Quins who were quickest out of the blocks, this time Gafa was the recipient of some good play from halves combination Mark McLinden and Danny Orr, going over for the third try of the game. Sykes added the goal and at 14 – 4 the Quins were looking good value for their lead. Growing indiscipline from a Wigan side frustrated at the parsimonious Quins defence led to another penalty opportunity for Sykes who gratefully accepted another two points to make it 16 – 4.
Just after the hour Wigan did manage to pull back a try, with star man Trent Barrett, who otherwise had a rather quiet game pulling off a piece of individual magic to cross in the south east corner. Richards was again off target with the boot to leave the scores standing at 16 – 8.
The Barrett try was to be Wigan’s last major threat at overhauling the Quins lead as their frustration continued to build leading to a string of errors that ultimately hindered their chances. In the final ten minutes forward Gareth Hock was sent to the sin bin for dissent as tempers frayed, leaving Paul Sykes to seal the scores with another penalty.
If the match had a general theme it was of a rather sloppy first half in which both sides made plenty of errors, only for Quins to tighten up their performance in the second half to give them the edge over Wigan. Quins fans had been concerned that the absence of reliable skipper Rob Purdham and hard working back-row Henry Paul (who dropped out before kick-off) would weaken the defensive unit, but the fears were largely unfounded. Gafa had a surprisingly effective performance in the back-row alongside Lee Hopkins, Michael Worrincy and Joe Mbu (in his first game back following a stint at Doncaster). Orr completely outplayed his counterpart, former Quins halve Tommy Leuluai, and looks far more comfortable playing alongside McLinden. If there was a downside it was that Scott Hill once again failed to impose himself on the game, with another quiet performance.
Wigan on their part looked short of cutting edge, giving rise to the suggestion that when Barrett has a quiet game the Warriors have a quiet game. Iafeta Paleaaesina put in some strong running in his first spell but faded badly, whilst front-row partner Stuart Fielden was also largely anonymous. Back-rowers Hock, Sean O’Loughlin and Bryan Fletcher worked hard without great reward, but some sloppy head high tackles particularly from Hock undid some of their good work. In the backs Richards looked sharp but was denied good service, whilst Ashton looked suspect in defence and under the high ball but did show some good running lines going forward.
Quins head coach Brian McDermott knows that this Wigan team is capable of far better performances and will be wary of Friday’s challenge cup game at the JJB Stadium. In front of an expectant home crowd Wigan will be driven by what they see as their best chance of silverware this season and should present a far tougher prospect.
Harlequins RL: (8) 18
Tries: Sykes, Gafa
Goals: Sykes 5
Wigan: (4) 8
Tries: Ashton, Barrett