Brian McDermott’s Toronto Wolfpack were without Sonny Bill Williams as they looked to claim their first victory in the Betfred Super League against Wigan Warriors at the DW Stadium.
With Jon Wilkin dropping out of the side just minutes before the start of the game, it left Toronto to their last remaining 17 players in just the third round of the competition. That swiftly dropped down to 16 as James Cunningham went off the pitch with a hamstring injury.
Wigan were heavy favourites going into the game, but after a slow opening 15 minutes, it seemed like neither side wanted to play decent rugby.
It was the Wolfpack who opened the scoring as Ricky Leutele tapped back a high Josh McCrone kick into the arms of Matty Russell, who slid over in the corner for a 0-4 lead.
The lead didn’t last long though as Harry Smith burrowed his way over the line after an offload from Willie Isa for his first try of the season.
A knock-on from Gareth O’Brien on his own touchline gave Wigan great field position, with 10 minutes of the half remaining, and the home-side took full advantage.
A play from the middle of the park to the left hand edge created a gap in the defence and Bevan French exploited it after an inch perfect inside-pass from Liam Farrell. Hardaker converted for 10-4 with half-time approaching.
HALF-TIME: Wigan Warriors 10-4 Toronto Wolfpack
Toronto started the second half on the front foot as Adam Sidlow powered his way over the line, however, the prop-forward was deemed held-up by video referee Robert Hicks with the Wolfpack denied.
A couple of tackles later, the visitors did manage to score as Gareth O’Brien squirmed between Isa and Joe Bullock and offloaded to Bodene Thompson who dotted down.
Wallace converted to level the scores.
The Wolfpack found themselves down to 15 fit players, as a head clash between Willie Isa and Gadwin Springer caused the Frenchman to leave the field.
Just before the hour mark, the Warriors punished Toronto with a devastating counter attack. Bevan French caught the ball in his in-goal area, took a quick 20 metre tap, released Jackson Hastings, who popped the ball to winger Joe Burgess, who raced passed Liam Kay and 40 metres to score.
Bevan French was quick to pick up his second as, he cut his way through a tiring Toronto defence and a weak tackle from Josh McCrone to score.
Sean O’Loughlin, in his 400th Super League appearance, was so close to scoring a try, but Hakim Miloudi caught the loose-forward high around the head, picking up a yellow card in the process.
With Toronto down to 12 men on the field, Jackson Hastings took advantage of the space, skipped to the outside of Josh McCrone and passed back inside to Liam Farrell to score.
Farrell picked up a second in as many minutes, as Hastings assisted the second-rower who ran straight passed Andrew Dixon in defence for an easy try. Hardaker converted to make it 32-10 with 90 seconds remaining.
No further points came in the game as Toronto, who ended the game with 15 healthy players, still search for their first win the Super League.
Adrian Lam will be impressed with an improved second-half to pick up their second win of the season, but the Warriors still have plenty to work on.
Next week, Wigan welcome Hull FC and Toronto face Huddersfield at the John Smiths Stadium.
On a side note, Gary Wheeler didn’t feature for the Wolfpack on the night, so that number of healthy players could well be 14.
Man of the Match: Bevan French
The full-back was outstanding in attack once more picking up two tries, but it was his link-up play with Jackson Hastings which stood out more than anything. The quick twenty metre tap was good thinking as it allowed Burgess to race away to score. Adrian Lam will be hoping he continues his fine form as the season continues.
French, Marshall, Hardaker, Bibby, Burgess, Smith, Hastings, Partington, Leuluai, Clubb, Farrell, Isa, O’Loughlin
Interchanges: Bourouh, Bullock, Clark, Smithies
Tries: Smith, French (2), Burgess, Farrell (2)
Goals: Hardaker (4/6)
O’Brien, Kay, Miloudi, Leutele, Russell, Wallace, McCrone, Singleton, Ackers, Springer, Olbison, Thompson, Cunningham
Interchanges: Sidlow, Dixon, Mullally, Wheeler
Tries: Russell, Thompson
Goals: Wallace (1/2)
Referee: C. Kendall
Touch Judges: J. Smith, M. Griffiths
Video Referee: R. Hicks