A collapse in the final thirty minutes saw Harlequins RL hand the advantage, and a flattering final score, to Wigan in yesterday’s season opener at The Stoop. A crowd of over 8000 saw the home side start brightly with Matt Gafa scoring thr first try after just three minutes, Danny Orr quickest to react to a Wigan error drew the defence and put the big winger away.
Wigan hit back with a try from centre Darrell Goulding and Pat Richards tagged on the conversion plus a couple of penalties to give the visitors a 6 point advantage with twenty five minutes gone.
Mark McLinden popped up with a spectacular try three minutes later, and Henry Paul added the extra two points to square things. A try from Michael McIllorum was cancelled out by a Scott Hill effort, with Richards and Paul trading conversions, leaving the score at 16 a piece going in to half-time.
Quins came out of the break firing, a try and two goals for Paul firmly handing them the initiative and when the impressive Matt Gafa added a second try on fifty minutes they appeared to be cruising to victory. However as happened so many times last season the team’s fragility didn’t take long to be exposed Harrison Hansen shrugged off some weak defence to score the try that sparked the comeback. The impressive Goulding added his second try, and when Iafeta Paleaaesina drove over with a typical block busting run the game had firmly swung to Wigan’s favour.
When McIllorum added his second try five minutes from time the result was inevitable, although the unusually quiet Trent Barrett added a drop-goal shortly afterwards to make sure. New Warriors fullback Richie Mathers benefited from some dubious officiating for the final try of the game, hooker Mickey Higham made a smart break only to be tackled short, but with the referee was caught up in back play he popped the ball inside to Mathers instead of playing it.
The incident was symptomatic of referee Gareth Hewer’s game, the official who usually controls National League matches struggled with the ruck areas, frequently retreating before the tackle had completed resulting in a number of calls which appeared to be little more than guesses. Unfortunatley for Quins these “50/50 calls” had a habit of favouring their opponents.
Quins coach Brian McDermott can take encouragement from the way his side competed for the first hour, but the capitulation in the closing stages does not bode well. Debutants Gareth Haggerty and Danny Ward both produced encouraging performances, whilst Scott Hill and Danny Orr looked to be finding some understanding in the halves, it was however captain Rob Purdham and winger Matt Gafa who produced the most notable performances.
Harlequins RL: (16) 28
Tries: Gafa 2, McLinden, Hill, Paul
Goals: Paul 4
Wigan Warriors: (16) 47
Tries: Goulding 2, McIlorum 2, Hansen, Paleaaesina, Mathers
Goals: Richards 9 Drop Goals: Barrett