TRANS-TASMAN PREVIEWS | We've got a look over and made our picks for the opening night of the rep ro...
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If Brian Noble was in any doubt as to the size of the task he faces to keep Wigan in the engage Super League, he must surely now have a pretty good idea after the Warriors slipped to a 30-24 defeat by Castleford at the JJB Stadium.
The game was a must-win for the Warriors as the Tigers, and effectively safety, stood four points ahead of them going into the game.
But, after two tries in quick succession from Michael Platt and Brad Davis saw the Tigers lead 22-12 at the interval, the Warriors could only muster a four-pointer from Nathan McAvoy and a last-gasp effort from Mickey Higham for all their second-half pressure, possession and highly-flattering penalty count.
With second-bottom Catalans Dragons out of the relegation equation, the Warriors have now been cast adrift at the bottom - and it is going to take every bit of Noble?s undoubted coaching genius to prevent the most famous club in the game, complete with new signing for 2007 Trent Barrett, playing National League football next term.
The Tigers could not have got off to a better start when, after referee Karl Kirkpatrick awarded them a penalty in the opening set for ball-stealing, the outstanding Willie Manu put Platt through a gaping hole to score, with veteran Davis making no mistake with the conversion.
The Warriors were level within five minutes, though, as a clever kick from former Cas man Danny Orr fell into the grateful arms of Mark Calderwood to grab his first try of the season on his return from injury.
Danny Tickle converted from the touchline for 6-6, a vital kick given the next period of the game which was largely ruled by defence.
The Warriors were unable to take advantage of a 40-20 from Sean O?Loughlin, and they were made to pay when Viane got on the end of a flowing move from right to left to touch down, with Davis again adding the extras.
The Tigers were showing some excellent last-tackle options via the boot of Davis and Peter Lupton, although Wigan?s back three of Chris Ashton, Calderwood and Pat Richards were proving up to the assault.
And, 12 minutes before the interval, the Warriors were level again, with Great Britain hooker Higham forcing his way over by the posts.
Calderwood was just stopped in the right-hand corner after youngster Darrell Goulding had shown great hands to hold on to a bullet pass from O?Loughlin, and when the ball was switched left Higham was too strong for Platt to reach over.
Richards converted with Tickle off the field to tie the scores again at 12-12. With half-time approaching the Tigers took the lead for the third time, although there was a hint of controversy to it.
Platt appeared to be held by three Warriors five yards short but, as the Wigan tacklers released the man, the Cas full back scooted over for the four-pointer.
Referee Kirkpatrick had clearly not called held and had no alternative but to award the try, but the home side were clearly not happy.
And their mood was not improved when the Tigers crossed again on the stroke of half time, when Davis this time could not be stopped, again down the Tigers left-hand side, for a try which Craig Huby converted to give his side a commanding 22-12 advantage.
The Warriors knew they had to get the first try of the second half, and they did just that with nine minutes of the second period gone.
Orr was stopped just short by tremendous cover defence, but Higham took the play the ball and McAvoy got his first try in a Wigan shirt.
Richards kicked the touchline conversion to narrow the gap to four points, but a horrible handling error from Bryn Hargreaves from the kick off handed the initiative back to the visitors.
And Paul Handforth reached over on the third tackle to push his side?s lead out to 26-18, although Huby was wide with the kick.
The warriors were denied another response on the hour as great hands left saw McAvoy flying towards the corner only to be pushed into touch a yard short.
Wigan were denied again on 61 minutes when Calderwood was adjudged to have knocked on over the tryline as he and Pryce leapt for an Orr kick.
And the Tigers rubbed salt into the wounds with 15 minutes remaining when Manu showed great strength to finish off a try he helped to create in its infancy.
The Warriors struggled to hold on to the ball for much of what followed, although Iafeta Paleaaesina put Higham over with two minutes left, with Richards converting, for some degree of home consolation - but not much.
Wigan: Ashton, Calderwood, Goulding, McAvoy, Richards, Orr, Moran, Logan, Godwin, Seu Seu, Tickle, Fletcher, O'Loughlin. Replacements: Paleaaesina, Hargreaves, Higham, James.
Castleford: Platt, Pryce, Shenton, McGoldrick, Dyer, Lupton, Davis, Fa'aoso, Henderson, Nutley, Roarty, Manu, Bird. Replacements: Ward, Huby, Viane, Handforth.
Wigan: (12) 24. Tries: Calderwood, Higham 2, McAvoy. Goals: Tickle, Richards 3.
Castleford: (22) 30. Tries: Platt 2, Viane, Davis, Handforth, Manu. Goals: Davis 2, Huby.
Referee: K Kirkpatrick (Warrington)