Everyone associated with Wigan Warriors will be under no illusion that the bigger games, and the bigger prizes, are still to come in the weeks ahead. There has been a growing feeling that Wigan have been gradually moving through the gears as the play-offs approach: a trait they have certainly shown on plenty of occasions in the past.
But this performance, which ultimately secured a first League Leaders’ Shield since 2012, and only a third since 2000, was in many ways a microcosm of their season.
Make no mistake about it, Wigan were certainly tested against a Huddersfield side whose own season may not be over, despite the regular season coming to a hastily-arranged conclusion here. Level at the break when Sam Wood’s try cancelled out Sam Powell’s opener, the prospect of Wigan slipping up here and finishing third, meaning no luxury of next week off as the play-offs begin, was a real possibility.
But the second half was a familiar story for those who have followed Wigan recently. They steadily improved, and in the end, the pressure they applied on their opponents was always going to be too much, with tries from Jackson Hastings and Zak Hardaker in the final quarter ensuring it would be Wigan, not St Helens, who go into the play-offs sitting top.
“I’m very pleased,” Wigan’s coach, Adrian Lam, said. “We were top going into lockdown and it’s been a difficult season, but for everyone at the club it’s a big moment.”
Though they weren’t quite at their best, credit must go to their opponents. Powell’s early try looked to have set Wigan on their way, but after commendably fighting back, Wood’s leveller after pouncing on a rare error from Bevan French was the least they deserved at the break.
Huddersfield, after finishing seventh, are now on standby to be called into the play-offs should any team suffer Covid-related complications, and if they do get the call, this performance showed they will be no pushovers. “We need to prepare like we’re going to be in,” their coach, Luke Robinson, said, “because with everything that’s gone on this year, there’s every chance we could get pulled in at the last minute.”
But in the end, the quality and calibre Wigan’s backline possessed was the difference. There were near-misses for the Warriors in the minutes leading up to Hastings’s instinctive finish from dummy-half on the hour mark, and two minutes later his well-weighted kick was superbly collected by Hardaker, who converted to make it 18-6.
Hastings was on hand to add further comfort to the scoreline in the closing minutes with a drop goal, but by then, the result was secure. Wigan will watch the opening week of the play-offs – which sees Warrington play Hull and Catalans v Leeds in eliminator matches – knowing that when they join the following week, they do so with real confidence.