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R26: Wigan near safety
An near-perfect first half performance and a hat-trick of tries from Michael Dobson helped Wigan Warriors to a commanding 38-16 victory over engage Super League champions Bradford Bulls.
The match had been hyped as Brian Noble and Stuart Fielden coming up against their old club but it was another former Bull, Mickey Higham, who did most to help the Warriors gain the early upper hand.
Despite a much-improved second-half show from the Bulls, Wigan retained their lead and finished with a 22-point cushion.
The Warriors crossed four times in the first half through Chris Ashton, Dobson and Pat Richards, who scored two tries.
Although the Bulls restored some pride after the break through Michael Withers, Andy Lynch and Karl Pryce, further scores by Dobson, who crossed twice to complete his treble, and Wayne Godwin saw the Warriors home in front of 15,830 spectators at the JJB Stadium.
There was some predictable early special treatment for Fielden from his old team-mates in the Bradford pack but it was the irrepressible Higham who almost fashioned the opening score after five minutes.
The hooker, who was signed by Bradford from St Helens in the close season only to be immediately swapped for Wigan?s Terry Newton, made a fabulous dart from dummy half on halfway that cut the defence to shreds.
His inside ball found Bryan Fletcher, who handed onto Dobson only for the cover defence to stop him a yard short.
The respite was only brief, however, as over half the Warriors played their part in a super team move before Ashton took Danny Orr?s final ball to race under the posts.
Fielden got one back with a massive hit on the unfortunate Ben Harris but the Bulls made big metres on their next set and only desperate defence from Sean O?Loughlin halted Newton, another trying to impress former employers.
The home side were undeniably on top and it was another Higham break that led to them extending the lead on 17 minutes.
Ashton again was in support and, although it looked like he had the pace to hold off the chasing Lesley Vainikolo, he handed onto Richards for a walk-in.
Dobson was next to notch a four-pointer moments later and again it was a team effort.
A long ball from Fletcher on halfway released Orr, who chose the perfect time to offload to his half-back partner, whose second goal saw the Warriors lead 16-0 with barely a quarter of the game gone.
The Bulls tried to hit back but the Warriors? defence was proving up to the task, Michael Withers finding no way through after a good break down the middle.
On half-time, the Warriors defence looked to be stretched on their own line, only for Richards to pluck a long ball meant for Marcus Bai out of the air and race 100 metres for his second try.
Dobson?s boot made it 22-0, and not even a rare mistake from Fielden from the kick-off could allow the Bulls back in as the hooter sounded to a crescendo of cheers from the home faithful.
The first half could scarcely have got worse for the Bulls and they needed to do something fast to get themselves back into the game.
What would not have been in the script was Withers to drop a routine pass from Vainikolo for Dobson to pick up the pieces and score his second try within a couple of minutes of the restart.
Another successful goal pushed the lead out to 28-0, only for Withers to make amends with Bradford?s first try four minutes later.
Good hands left saw Karl Pryce walk through the right-centre channel and Withers was in support to cross for a try that Paul Deacon converted.
The Bulls had a sniff of a comeback but Godwin burrowed his way over from close range within five minutes to shut the door on the Yorkshiremen, Dobson again on the mark.
Andy Lynch reduced the gap on the hour after taking a superbly-timed inside ball from Deacon and Pryce then picked off an ill-advised long ball from Fletcher deep in Wigan territory to reduce the gap to three converted scores at 34-16.
With nine minutes remaining, Henderson found a gap, only for Fielden to pull off the try-saving tackle.
Dobson made sure he sneaked the man-of-the-match plaudits from a host of worthy challengers in the dying seconds when he outpaced Withers to score in the corner to complete his hat-trick.
Wigan Warriors: Ashton, Calderwood, McAvoy, Vaealiki, Richards, Orr, Dobson, Paleaaesina, Higham, Fielden, Hock, Fletcher, O'Loughlin.
Replacements: Logan, Godwin, Hansen, Tickle.
Bradford Bulls: Withers, Vainikolo, Hape, B. Harris, Bai, I. Harris, Deacon, Vagana, Newton, Lynch, McKenna, Ferres, Langley.
Replacements: Henderson, Meyers, Burgess, Pryce.
Wigan Warriors: (22) 38.
Tries: Ashton, Richards 2, Dobson 3, Godwin.
Goals: Dobson 5.
Bradford Bulls: (0) 16.
Tries: Withers, Lynch, Pryce.
Goals: Deacon 2.
Referee: A Klein