“We came. We conquered. We ate all your pies”.
The banner from touring Wigan fans in the crowd at WIN Stadium for the historic Super League match summed up how Warriors coach Shaun Wane felt after his side’s 24-10 defeat of Hull FC.
“I am happy with the win, happy to travel all this way to get the two points,” Wane said.
“When we are ruthless about the way we attack and the way we defend we are going to be a hard team to beat and that is the positive but the fact is we came here to get the win and the manner of it is still annoying me.”
Watched by a crowd of 12,416, the first Super League premiership fixture played outside Europe was declared a success after surpassing the attendances at the three regular season fixtures between the two clubs last season.
However, it proved a costly night for Hull, with hooker Danny Houghton (calf) and winger Bureta Faraimo (concussion) failing to finish the game and second-rower Mark Minichiello (ankle), centre Jake Connor (knee) and prop Liam Watts (hamstring) battling on until full-time.
“We finished the game with no interchanges and when it is as humid as this it is real difficult and probably affected our middle in a really negative way,” Hull coach Lee Radford said. “I never, ever question the boys' efforts for one another.”
The temperature in Wollongong at kick-off was 28 degrees – much warmer than the players and fans are used to, with Wane saying it was the first time he had coached a game wearing shorts.
However, there was concern expressed about the Super League balls used for the match – and referee Matt Cecchin’s decision to sin-bin Wigan fullback Sam Tomkins and Hull centre Josh Griffin after a scuffle late in the game.
“We don’t have a punching rule so you are free to throw them if you want,” Radford said. “That’s play on for me and I am sure the Aussie supporters wanted to see that as well.”
By that stage, the game was gone for Hull and Radford had forwards playing out wide as he had no backs on the bench and lost Faraimo after just two minutes when he was concussed from a kick return.
Radford sent Danny Washbrook into the fray but Wigan immediately took advantage of his inexperience on the flank when opposite winger Liam Marshall finished a 70-metre try after a Liam Farrell break.
Marshall quickly went from hero to zero when he dropped the kick-off after Sam Tomkins's conversion of his fourth-minute try but it was only a set of tackles again that Wigan’s travelling contingent of fans was singing – literally – his praises again.
On this occasion, the 21-year-old caught out Jake Connor, who had shifted from centre to the wing, with his electric pace and raced 60 metres to score his second try in the opening six minutes of the match.
Wane thought his side should have gone further ahead after a series of bombed tries, but his frustration would not have matched that of Radford after a mix-up between Connor and fullback Jamie Shaul from a Sam Powell bomb.
However, Wigan failed to capitalise and it was Hull who scored next when former South Sydney Rabbitohs winger Fetuli Talanoa dived from outside the field of play to get the ball down for a 25th-minute try.
The joy of the vocal Hull fans quickly turned to concern after Houghton, the 2016 Super League Man of Steel, limped from the field with a calf injury and when he returned after half-time he was dressed in his club polo shirt.
Marshall almost scored a third try from a perfectly placed George Williams kick in the 30th minute but video referee Steve Chiddy ruled he had knocked on and another fumble from the Wigan winger at the other end led to Hull’s second try by Jordan Abdull.
Tomkins ensured Wigan went to half-time with a 12-10 lead when he landed a 42-metre penalty goal just two minutes before the break but it would have done little to soften the tone of Wane’s halftime talk.
It was a much more composed Warriors performance in the second half as they controlled field position and wore down their battered opponents, with props Ryan Sutton and Ben Flower scoring tries.