Two of the four remaining one-hundred percent sides in Super League 2021 were thrown together at the DW Stadium as the Wigan Warriors took on Castleford Tigers in the opening game of Round Four.
Bevan French was back for the home side and named on the wing as Zak Hardaker retained his place at his favoured position of fullback while Harry Smith replaced the injured Thomas Leuluai in the halves.
The Tigers had Jordan Turner and Jake Trueman in the halves with Brad Hepi starting as prop and Brad Martin on the bench for his first appearance in 2021.
Both sides started the game in tentative moods, poking and probing the opposition but not doing anything to test the defences in too much detail.
Peter Mata’utia was the catalyst for the breakthrough on fifteen as he was the provider for the opening try, finding Derrell Olpherts to go over in the corner. Paul McShane converted well from the touchline and somewhat against the run of play the Tigers were 6-0 up.
Zak Hardaker was on hand after Harry Smith went through a gap and threw a random pass which went to hand and gave the fullback a walk-in try. Hardaker added the conversion to tie the sides up at 6-6 after twenty-five.
A thirtieth minute, thirty metre, penalty from the boot of McShane re-established the Tigers lead, by a narrow two points but Wigan were stunned into action and with three left in the half the home side took the lead as Bevan French was on the end of fast hands from John Bateman to score wide out. The trusty boot of Hardaker added the conversion for Wigan to take a 12-8 lead into the break.
A two on one overlap was to be a gift for Olpherts as he went over in the corner, despite French appearing to dislodge the ball. After consulting his officials, the referee awarded the try and the Tigers were back level. McShane was unable to add the conversion, but the sides were tied up at 12-12.
French pounced on a perfect kick to the corner to regain the Wigan lead as the Tigers defenders struggled to cover wide. Hardaker hit the left post with his conversion, the lead four points with sixteen remaining.
A Sam Powell scoot from acting half back sealed the win for the Warriors as the Tigers finally succumbed to intense pressure. Hardaker added the conversion for 22-12, the points going Wigans way and Castleford registering their first defeat of the season.
Wigan were the victors in this war or attrition and Castleford will be left counting the cost of a number of silly penalties which conceded position and possession at critical times. Wigan trail Saints by points difference percentage at the top of the pile.
Wigan Warriors: Hardaker (T, 3G), French (2T), Farrell, Isa, Bibby, Hastings, Smith, Clubb, Powell (T), Singleton, Smithies, Bateman, Partington. Subs: Shorrocks, Bullock, Byrne, Havard.
Castleford Tigers: Evalds, Eden, Shenton, Mata’utia, Olpherts (2T), Trueman, Turner, Watts, McShane (2G), Hepi, Holmes, Blair, Massey. Subs: Millington, Milner, Bienek, Martin.
Referee: Chris Kendall.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-6, 4-6, 6-6, 6-8, 10-8, 12-8 : HT : 12-12, 16-12, 20-12, 22-12 : FT.