After delivering a stinging response to his critics by leading Wigan to Grand Final glory last week, Harry Smith is relishing the prospect of winning his second England cap in the first match of a three-test series against Tonga on Sunday.

The 23-year-old Wigan stand-off played an increasingly pivotal role in his club’s surge to the Super League title, culminating in kicking six points in their 10-2 win over Catalans at Old Trafford last weekend in the Betfred Grand Final.

It marked a glittering end to the season for Smith, who missed out on the prestigious Harry Sunderland man-of-the-match trophy by a single vote, and was all the more impressive given early season concerns over his inconsistency with the boot.

Ahead of the clash at St Helens’ Totally Wicked Stadium, Smith told the PA news agency: “I’m very happy with how the season went in terms of leadership and game management, and winning the confidence of my team-mates and (Wigan head coach) Matt Peet.

“I got a bit of stick due to my kicking, and some of it was probably a bit unfair. I thought my overall performance, creating stuff for the team, was really good.

“I never really over-thought it. I knew the work I was putting in would pay off, and I just had to keep looking forward and not backwards. I feel like I’ve really managed to make those improvements in the last few months.”

Smith made his only previous England appearance in a one-sided 64-0 thrashing of France earlier this year and knows his side face a different proposition against a Tonga squad stacked with talent from Australia’s NRL.

In the absence through suspension of regular captain George Williams, Smith is set to form a new half-back partnership with Hull KR’s Mikey Lewis, one of two potential debutants in coach Shaun Wane’s 19-man matchday squad alongside Leeds’ Harry Newman.

For more experienced members of the squad, the series represents the chance to finally shrug off any lingering disappointment from last year’s dramatic golden point World Cup semi-final defeat to Samoa at the Emirates Stadium.

Smith added: “The Samoa game has not been mentioned much, because there’s obviously quite a lot of players in the squad who were not involved, but there are definitely some who still have that bitter feeling.

“It’s more about how we can move on with the aim of getting to a World Cup final in the future. It’s why we take up the sport, to play in the biggest games, and the difference between this and the France game is obvious.

“You can feel it in training, the intensity is much bigger than before the France game, because not only are you surrounded with really good players, but you know how good those are who you are coming up against.”

St Helens full-back Jack Welsby has been handed the honour of becoming England’s youngest ever captain on his home ground and will come face-to-face with domestic team-mate Will Hopoate in the opposite position.

Saints team-mate Tommy Makinson is another survivor from the Samoa nightmare and he believes Welsby’s ascent to the captaincy, in place of the now-retired Sam Tomkins, has been an inevitability for some time.

“I’m really proud first and foremost,” said Makinson. “It’s been coming and in his performances over the past two or three years, we’ve all seen what Jack can do.

“He’s a back-to-back Man of Steel candidate and all the accolades have come his way. He’s not really very vocal, but he’s honest, hard-working and more than anything he’s a good bloke, and that’s why everyone respects him.”

Matt Peet will aim to emulate his coaching heroes by ushering in a new era of domination after Wigan claimed their first Super League Grand Final win since 2018 with a hard-fought 10-2 victory over Catalans Dragons at Old Trafford.

The 39-year-old Warriors chief capped a remarkable personal journey that started as an unpaid volunteer with the club’s academy in 2008 by master-minding their return to the sport’s summit, but maintained his job is far from done.

Instead, Manchester United fan Peet will seek inspiration from heroes such as Sir Alex Ferguson to build a sustained legacy of success at the club, and perhaps emulate the four back-to-back titles won by rivals St Helens whose reign ended in this year’s semi-finals.

“When coaches can win repeatedly and build different teams and sustain a culture, then you know they have got something special about them,” said Peet. “They are the kind of coaches that I admire and look to learn little bits from.

“I am a Manchester United fan and sitting back watching that team evolve through the late 80s and right through to the 2000s, what you saw from Sir Alex was him rebuild that team, make tough decisions when it was required, trust young players and manage players. That all comes down to leadership and culture.”

Peet was at pains to pay tribute to the players who successfully concluded a re-emergent season, a sturdy defensive display giving way to second-half dominance with the help of their opponents who saw both Adam Keighran and Tom Davies sin-binned.

Liam Marshall’s solitary try 12 minutes into the second half made the difference while the increasingly trusted boot of Harry Smith kicked a conversion and two penalties to see his side home and deny the French side a first Grand Final crown.

“You always want to build on success,” added Peet. “When people look ahead to next year, they are under-estimating some of the quality they’ve seen on the field tonight.

“Some of them will be moving on, but I want to reflect on this group of people, men, players and staff. I think we will look back on this year’s team as a special team regardless. What happens next, who knows.”

Toby King and Kai Pearce-Paul played their last games for the club in the Grand Final but Wigan’s recruitment for 2024 has raised eyebrows with Luke Thompson, Kruise Leeming, Sam Walters and the vanquished Keighran all inked in to bolster an already-impressive squad.

The first challenge for the impressive array of new faces could be a trip Down Under with Peet anxious to emulate Saints in kicking off the season with a daunting test against NRL champions Penrith Panthers.

“We want to go there,” added Peet. “I’m looking forward to it, and it will be an honour. I know the club would like to go there. This club has a great history of playing in that competition and it’s where we should be.”

Peet’s players lined up to pay tribute to their unassuming coach, with veteran captain Liam Farrell ensuring he did not escape the plaudits in the victorious dressing room after the match.

Farrell, who first tasted Grand Final success with his home-town club in 2010, revealed: “I just singled him out in the dressing room.

“He was praising everyone around him – the owner, the players, his staff members. But well and truly, he leads by example. He is a leader at the top and everyone follows him.

“He makes tough calls when they’re needed, he puts the game plan into place. He does all those one per-centers, all those extra efforts, and it is the reason we are where we are.

“It is the reason we won the Challenge Cup (last season), it’s the reason we won the League Leaders’ Shield and it’s the reason now we’re sitting here as Super League champions. He is a leader in every sense.”

Sam Tomkins’ dream of ending his glittering career with one last Grand Final win was shattered by his former club as Wigan summoned a stirring second-half display to sink Catalans Dragons 10-2 at Old Trafford.

Liam Marshall grabbed the only try of the game to secure a hard-fought but ultimately comfortable win for Matt Peet’s men, sealing their sixth domestic showpiece and their first since 2018.

Tomkins, who was embraced by his friend and former team-mate, Wigan captain Liam Farrell at the final whistle, will head into retirement reflecting on a pair of yellow cards that effectively cost his side any chance of victory.

Adam Keighran was sin-binned midway through the first period and Tom Davies followed suit for an intentional block on Marshall in the second half as Catalans came up short for the second time in three years.

It was a tough night all round for Tomkins, who had been served an early reminder that he would be done no favours on his final appearance when he was taken out by Farrell in the process of punting a high ball forward in the third minute.

Liam Marshall marked his 150th appearance with a hat-trick as Wigan sealed their return to the Betfred Super League Grand Final for the first time in three years with a blistering 42-12 win over Hull KR at the DW Stadium.

Matt Peet’s men scored three tries in the opening 12 minutes and never looked back as they set up an Old Trafford clash with Catalans Dragons and their former hero Sam Tomkins, who starred in each of Wigan’s previous three Grand Final wins.

Elliot Minchella’s try gave Rovers a glimmer of hope before the break but three tries in quick succession at the start of the second half – bolstered by the unerring boot of Harry Smith who kicked all seven of his conversions – wrapped up Wigan’s win inside an hour.

Willie Peters’ men had arrived at the DW Stadium brimming with confidence after a stellar campaign but the semi-final simply proved a step too far as their flat-footed defensive line was ruthlessly exploited by the hosts.

Marshall marked his 150th appearance by crashing between Tom Opacic and Louis Senior to notch the opener inside three minutes, then Jai Field pursued Smith’s clever kick to slap down his side’s second, a video check over-ruling referee Liam Moore’s suspicions of a knock-on.

Marshall exposed more gaps on the Rovers rights to trot over all too easily for his side’s third and Smith’s precision with the boot meant the visitors were staring at an 18-0 deficit having barely brushed the ball in anger.

Minchella at least gave his side hope before half-time as Rovers capitalised on a careless knock-on by Abbas Miski, Opacic and Matt Parcell combining to give Minchella the chance to get their side on the scoreboard.

Rovers briefly looked galvanised and Matty Storton had a sniff of a second, but it marked their last real chance to establish some sort of contest as familiar failings meant Wigan completed the job within 15 minutes of the restart.

French’s clever cross-field lob found Marshall in space to tap down for his hat-trick, yet another Rovers failure to cope with a high ball sent Toby King over in the opposite corner, then Patrick Mago’s fancy footwork served up Field’s second.

Wigan were simply merciless against a Rovers team folding under the weight of an exhaustive campaign and a seventh try via Abbas Miski began to give the scoreline echoes of Wigan’s 64-6 win over a second-string Rovers side early last month.

They at least avoided that indignity, but it was a sad ending for Rovers and in particular their stalwart Shaun Kenny-Dowall, who had a shocker in his final game before retirement.

Smith finally missed with a cheeky long-range drop-goal attempt as Wigan counted down the minutes and Rovers at least gave their massed ranks of travelling fans something to cheer when Jordan Abdull sent Jez Litten cantering through in the dying stages.

Jake Wardle is determined to erase the memory of a “heartbreaking” Challenge Cup semi-final setback from his otherwise stellar first season with Wigan when the Warriors host Hull KR in the Betfred Super League play-off semi-finals.

The 24-year-old centre was one of the most crucial components of his side’s surge to the League Leaders’ Shield after signing on a three-year deal from Warrington last year, and his form was recognised by inclusion in this season’s Super League ‘Dream Team’.

But beside the plaudits Wardle admits to still feeling hurt by his side’s agonising golden point Challenge Cup semi-final loss to Rovers at Headingley in July – and says it has provided extra motivation as the two sides prepare to clash again on the big stage on Saturday.

“It was one of the lowest points of my career – to be so close to a Challenge Cup final and to miss out on going to Wembley on golden point was heartbreaking,” Wardle told the PA news agency.

“We’ve spoken about it a lot as a group since then, and how it is not a feeling we want to experience again. It has something that has provided a lot of motivation for us throughout the season, and obviously it gives us a bit more going into this week.”

Rovers’ revival since their own subsequent golden point loss in the final against Leigh suggests another close game in what will be a fifth meeting between the teams this season, with two wins apiece so far, including Wigan claiming their own golden point success at Craven Park in May.

Transformed under Warriors head coach Matt Peet, Wardle will once again be key to Wigan’s chances, and he credits his long-standing relationship with Peet for facilitating his swift switch from a relatively low-key signing into one of this season’s most consistent performers.

“I’ve had a really good relationship with Matty for the last 10 years, and I think he understands me as a person and how to get the best out of me,” added Wardle.

“He’s big on the culture at Wigan and I think that culture that has been built over the years is what makes it so easy for people like myself to come in and feel a part of the team from day one.

“It’s no secret that my last year or two at Huddersfield were very inconsistent, but I’ve got a lot more belief in myself now, I know the coaches also have belief in me, and there’s a lot more to come.

“The reason you start playing the game as a kid is that you dream of one day playing in Grand Final but we have just got the semi-final to focus on first. Having been on the receiving end of a couple of losses we know Rovers will be coming with a lot of confidence and we need to be on top of our game.”

Boss John Mousinho refused to get too carried away despite Portsmouth extending their unbeaten run to 21 matches thanks to a 2-1 Sky Bet League One victory at 10-man Wigan.

The Latics took the lead through Martial Godo but two goals in the space of six minutes just before half-time from Regan Poole and Paddy Lane were enough to secure the win for Pompey.

Wigan had to play for 41 minutes with 10 men after Charlie Wyke was sent off for a lunge on Marlon Pack but they kept pushing to the end.

But Pompey kept them at arm’s length to cement their position at the top of the table.

“It’s not about the unbeaten run today, it’s just about the result,” said Mousinho. “I’m absolutely thrilled to come away to a place like this and win.

“They are a very decent, very decent side, and I thought they showed that in the first half.

“They’ve beaten some very good sides this year and I’m absolutely delighted with the result.

“They were a Championship side last season and have still got some fantastic players.

“You know you’re going to go behind in some games, not everything is going to go your way. It’s going to happen when you’re playing at this level against good sides.

“But the good thing about this group is how well they respond to adversity and that’s exactly how it was today.

“It’s always difficult when you go behind to a good side, in front of a bumper crowd here, but it felt like even though we went behind, there was no panic.

“I always felt we would get back into it and we managed to do that.”

Wigan boss Shaun Maloney refused to point the finger at referee Will Finnie, whose decision to red card Wyke led to a commotion in the technical area that saw Latics No 2 Graham Barrow yellow-carded along with Portsmouth counterpart Jon Harley.

“Look, it wasn’t a great tackle and it gives the referee a decision to make,” he said. “I can understand why the referee has made the decision.”

Wigan also had a hat-trick of penalty shouts turned down, with Maloney adding: “I haven’t seen the ones with Thelo (Aasgaard) and Charlie (Wyke) in the box, I’ve only seen the handball.

“Yeah, look, I think the referee has probably got that one wrong, in my opinion.

“But I don’t complain about referees too much, these things happen, you can’t change what’s happened.

“We knew it was going to be a big fight with 10 men and I thought we did that, even with 10 men, we continued to take the game to them.

“There’s ways to lose games…last weekend (after the 4-1 defeat at Bristol Rovers), I felt completely differently.

“We just have to improve how we defend the box because we made it far too easy for them to score – especially considering how good our goal was.

“But the effort the team gave, and the quality they tried to bring with 10 men, I feel very different this weekend to last weekend.”

Manager Joey Barton saluted Jack Hunt after he set Bristol Rovers on course for a thumping 4-1 win over Wigan with his first goal for the club.

Right-back Hunt later helped seal their biggest League One win of the season with a brilliant assist for John Marquis to round off victory, with Luke Thomas and Aaron Collins also on target.

“Jack was first-class for us today but he has been since he first arrived in August,” Barton said.

“Jack’s performance epitomised his attitude and application since he joined us in the off-season.

“That was there for all to see today and we were miles the better side against a very good team.

“We’re seeing the benefits of the way he looked after himself despite being out of contract after leaving Sheffield Wednesday.

“That was testament to his professionalism and by keeping himself in great shape by ticking over with Harrogate, it means he’s had a tremendous impact since he came to Rovers.

“His performance today was probably his best in a quarters shirt but also he’s setting himself a really high bar and I think we’ve still got a spell of finding out about Jack.

“He’s had a fantastic career and was in and around the Premier League with Crystal Palace but he’s worked really hard and he’s humble so he’s had a huge impact on our team and our culture.”

Thomas put Rovers ahead on 13 minutes with a stylish left-footed finish only for Charlie Wyke to equalise five minutes later with a tap-in.

But when Hunt put Rovers back in command with a smart finish on 26 minutes they never looked back.

Collins scored for the second successive time on League One duty eight minutes after the break when he smashed a shot past past keeper Sam Tickle before Marquis nodded in Hunt’s cross.

Latics boss Shaun Maloney, whose club are still struggling in the relegation zone, added: “I was really disappointed with the first half and we were lucky to go in 2-1 down.

“I say that because we were nowhere near it in terms of real desire without the ball.

“And I have to eradicate that because we have to play every single game as if it means the world to us.

“We could have defended better and but they were better than us in terms of how much they wanted to compete.

“It’s sore when that happens but we’re a young side – but I don’t want to see a team play like we did in the first half. As long as we sprint and work hard I won’t complain.

“Sam Tickle made a mistake (for Hunt’s goal) but that’s football and the first half was the bigger disappointment.”

The regular Betfred Super League season comes to a close on Friday night with both the League Leaders’ Shield and the sixth and final play-off slot still up for grabs.

Ahead of the announcement of the official 2023 ‘Dream Team’ this weekend, the PA news agency selects its own all-star line-up from the campaign so far.

Jack Welsby (St Helens)

The flashy 22-year-old full-back remains a cut above most of his rivals and has played an integral part in helping Paul Wellens’ men shake off their sluggish early season and re-emerge as a threat at the business end.

Abbas Miski (Wigan)

Just a year after being loaned out to Championship side Newcastle Thunder, the Lebanese winger has evolved into a try-scoring machine for the Warriors, his 27 taking him into the final week of the regular season joint-top of the standings.

Adam Keighran (Catalans)

Brilliant with the boot and equally at home at centre, hooker or in the halves, Keighran – who will move to Wigan at the end of the current campaign – has been a crucial element of another successful season in the south of France.

Jake Wardle (Wigan)

Wardle’s move to Wigan last October raised few eyebrows but the 24-year-old has exceeded expectations at centre, underlined by a superb first career hat-trick in the 50-0 win over Leeds earlier this month.

Tom Johnstone (Catalans)

Johnstone, equalled only by Miski in the season’s try count, has been a revelation in his first season in Perpignan, his trademark surges down the left flank suggesting his previous injury issues are now a thing of the past.

Bevan French (Wigan)

Having migrated to the halves in mid-season to help solve a minor injury crisis, French appears to found his true home under head coach Matt Peet, seamlessly transferring his speed and invention on the wing to a much more pivotal role.

Lachlan Lam (Leigh)

A model of consistency in Leigh’s spine, Lam has been one of the biggest reasons for their phenomenal success, and fittingly kicked the golden-point winner after a man-of-the-match performance in the Challenge Cup final.

Paul Vaughan (Warrington)

His season may be set to end in ignominy after a four-match ban for unnecessary contact, but few will dispute the juddering impact the Australian prop made in the early part of the season, when Wire were intent on sweeping all before them.

Edwin Ipape (Leigh)

Tirelessly influential, constantly probing, only Saints veteran James Roby came close to matching Ipape’s impact at number nine this season, as the Papua New Guinea international adapted superbly to life in the top flight.

Tom Amone (Leigh)

Only Vaughan has made more metres from the front row this season, and the Tongan’s gritty consistency has been a major factor in the success of his team-mates in the Leopards’ all-action spine.

James Bell (St Helens)

Bell has been a revelation in Saints’ second row this season, adding strong defence to a more consistent attacking threat to make himself an indispensable part of head coach Wellens’ late-season revival.

Matt Whitley (Catalans)

Whitley has been a model of consistency in his five seasons with Catalans and saved his best for the current campaign. His impending addition to a congested Saints back row for 2024 is a coup for Wellens.

Elliot Minchella (Hull KR)

That KR’s injury-hit campaign did not buckle after their Challenge Cup final loss to Leigh is largely down to Minchella, whose increasing influence steadied the Robins’ ship and marked him out as the stand-out number 13 in the competition.

English Football League new boys Wrexham dumped out Wigan on penalties as they reached the second round of the Carabao Cup for the first time in 16 years.

The hosts dominated but were held to a goalless draw in normal time before winning the shoot-out 4-2.

Charlie Hughes and Thelo Aasgaard both hit their spot-kicks high over the crossbar as the Latics crashed out.

Jake Bickerstaff squandered a big early chance for Wrexham when his overhead kick missed the target with Wigan goalkeeper Sam Tickle stranded after committing to a missed punch.

Home striker Ollie Palmer then nodded over 10 minutes before half-time.

Moments later, Tickle kept out James Jones’ strike before the onrushing Callum McFadzean inexplicably poked the rebound over with the goal at his mercy.

Dominant Wrexham had the first opportunity of the second half as Palmer powered an effort wide after cutting in from the left.

Tickle produced a brilliant double save to first keep out Bickerstaff’s strike before smothering Jordan Davies’ follow up.

Bickerstaff made it a trio of missed chances when he fired straight at Tickle, but his blushes were spared by a shoot-out win, with Luke Young, Elliot Lee, Thomas O’Connor and Sam Dalby all scoring for the hosts.

Charlie Wyke scored a brace as Wigan edged a 2-1 League One win at promotion favourites Derby as the new season got under way.

Wyke scored in each half, either side of Craig Forsyth’s equaliser for Derby early in the second half.

The hosts created plenty of chances in the opening 30 minutes but Sam Tickle made good saves from James Collins and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing.

Sonny Bradley headed wide but Wigan also had their moments with Callum Lang narrowly off target before Thelo Aasgaard fired just over from 20 yards.

It got even better for Wigan in the 38th minute when Bradley’s backpass sent Wyke through to round Joe Wildsmith and score.

Lang ran clear in the 45th minute but failed to beat Wildsmith and Latics were punished when Forsyth volleyed a superb 57th-minute leveller from Joe Ward’s cross.

Forsyth was denied by Tickle in the 70th minute but – two minutes later – Wyke headed in Tom Pearce’s cross.

Wigan, who started the season on minus eight points, held on through nine minutes of added time to claim an impressive win.

Hull KR coach Willie Peters will spare his star men the prospect of facing a potentially-vengeful Wigan on Friday night with their Wembley Challenge Cup final date fast approaching.

Peters plans to field a virtually-unrecognisable line-up for their Betfred Super League clash at the DW Stadium, including three players he has brought in this week on short-term loan deals plus three academy graduates who will make their first-team debuts.

Rovers edged Matt Peet’s men in a semi-final thriller at Headingley less than two weeks ago and despite their desire to cement a play-off spot, Peters is making no apologies for refusing to take risks with his already injury-hit squad.

“Obviously it’s a very important game this week but it’s a very important game next week too,” said Peters. “We will be going there with a team that is going to compete but we’ve got to be smart as well.

“If we have a team that goes out and competes from one minute to 80, I’ll be a proud coach. I think this is a game that we can hopefully go and make our fans proud of us, that a young team has gone over to Wigan and given their all.”

Rovers face Leigh at Wembley on August 12 where they will hunt their first Challenge Cup victory since their only previous triumph over city rivals Hull FC in 1980.

Peters confirmed the respective signings of Catalans half-back Cesar Rouge, Wakefield prop Isaac Shaw and Warrington forward Luke Thomas, all on two-week loan deals.

In addition, academy players Leo Tennison, Louix Gorman and Lennie Ellis will make the first team for the first time.

Peters is still hopeful that Tom Opacic, Eliot Minchella and Ethan Ryan will all recover from their current injuries in time for the Challenge Cup final a week on Saturday, but Jordan Abdull will definitely miss the Wembley date.

Wigan head coach Matt Peet hopes to give out-going joint-owner and chairman Ian Lenagan a fitting send-off with more Challenge Cup glory at Wembley.

Lenagan, 77, announced last Saturday that he will stand down at the end of the season in November, ending his 16-year association with the club.

Wigan, who lifted the Cup at Wembley last season for a record-extending 20th time after victory over Huddersfield, take on Hull KR at Headingley on Sunday for a place in this year’s final.

Peet said: “I think everyone understands how much he has committed to the club, financially obviously, but in terms of emotion and dedication of his life and his family’s life.

“It would be fitting if we could get him to at least one more final. We’ll take this opportunity this week to try and do it, but we’re up against another proud club with plenty of motivation of their own.”

Since Lenagan bought the Warriors from Dave Whelan in 2007, they have been Grand Final winners four times and have won three League Leaders’ Shields, three Challenge Cups and a World Club Challenge.

Peet, promoted from assistant to head coach after Adrian Lam’s departure in October 2021, said: “I think it’s where (Lenagan) picked the club up and on and off the field, where the club was at and where he’ll leave them.

“Everything that’s gone on between will be the biggest indication and history will remember Ian Lenagan as one of the greatest leaders in the history of the club, and rightly so.

“The influence he’s had on the education in the town, community, the engagement and obviously on the field.

“He’s also made his mark on the game as a whole. Internally, we always make decisions which are best for Wigan, but he always has the bigger picture in mind of what’s best for the game.”

Peet has warned his side must produce top form if they are to beat Hull KR on Sunday to set up a Wembley showdown against either St Helens or Leigh on August 12.

Wigan lost 27-18 to Hull KR at Craven Park on the opening day of the Super League season in February and edged a 26-22 golden-point win in the return in May.

“They’ve outplayed us twice so it’s obvious anything less than our best performance of the season and we’ll not be in the final,” added Peet, who has no new injuries following Friday’s 26-12 win against Warrington.

Hull KR head coach Willie Peters, appointed as Tony Smith’s successor for the start of the season, is waiting for fitness reports on doubtful trio Ryan Hall, Jimmy Keinhorst and Elliot Minchella.

Rovers, who lost in the semi-finals to Huddersfield last season, have seen a strong Super League challenge hit by a string of injuries.

Australian Peters, 44, who played on the losing side for Wigan in the  2000 Super League Grand Final defeat to St Helens, said: “If we can beat a club like Wigan to go and play at Wembley, it would be huge.

“Everything we’ve been through, the adversity in terms of injuries, it would be massive.

“We need to enjoy ourselves, celebrate the little wins along the way, like getting to the semis, but every team wants to get to Wembley.

“If we were to do the job, it would give the club huge belief, that’s for sure.”

Wigan head coach Matt Peet has backed his side to emerge stronger from last week’s agonising golden-point defeat to Betfred Super League whipping boys Wakefield.

The Warriors look to re-ignite their play-off hopes against neighbours Warrington on Friday having endured a week of tough soul-searching on the back of the dramatic 27-26 loss.

Peet’s men led three times at Belle Vue, including by eight points late in the second half, before Trinity scrambled level and Will Dagger’s extra-time kick secured the precious win for the bottom side.

It was an uncharacteristic performance in what has been a relatively consistent season for Wigan and Peet admitted: “It was important the players and staff took it hard and understood it was one we got wrong.

“If we’d been more hard-nosed and ruthless in the last 10 minutes, we might have got away with the two points, and I’m confident if we get put in the same position this week, we’ll manage the game better.

“You have to learn some lessons that hurt sometimes. You wish you didn’t have to go through that process, but if the outcome is a hungrier and more intelligent team, then we can turn it into a positive.”

Wigan’s shock loss saw them slip to fourth in a congested league table, better off by points difference than Friday’s opponents, the early pace-setters whose season has come off the rails following five defeats in their last six league games, albeit showing a marked improvement in last week’s tight loss to St Helens.

The Warriors, who have a Challenge Cup semi-final against Hull KR next week, have also announced a new four-year deal for homegrown hooker Brad O’Neill, who has made an increasing impact of late in a position in which Peet is not short of options.

“This is the only place I want to be and I’m glad to be here for the next four years,” said the 20-year-old, who came through the club’s scholarship and academy systems.

“I won the Challenge Cup last season and my dream is to win more with this club. Last week was a really tough game but we came back in on Monday and learned some really harsh lessons.

“You can take positives from learning how to play in those different kinds of pressure moments. We’ll learn massive amounts from last Friday and hopefully we’ll take it forward into these big games that are coming up.”

Shaun Maloney was pleased with the way his Wigan players dealt with another “hard…difficult” week by ending their Sky Bet Championship campaign with a 0-0 draw against Rotherham.

With the Millers already safe, there was always going to be an end-of-season feel to this dead rubber.

Even more so considering the Wigan players had not been paid on time for a fifth time this season, and half of their regular line-up were not named in the squad.

Young Wigan goalkeeper Sam Tickle was the star man on his league debut, but neither side looked capable of troubling the scorers on a miserable afternoon at the DW.

“I actually really liked the second half,” said Maloney. “We had to change things slightly at half-time, and I really liked the mentality we had.

“The first half was a little bit tentative. In fairness, some of the players hadn’t played for a while – or at least alongside each other for a while.

“I just told them I needed a bit more aggression and belief in that second half, at the end of what has been a very, very difficult few days.

“And there were a number of positives to come out of it, especially the performance of a number of young players.”

When asked about the off-field situation, Maloney added: “It’s been hard, very hard.

“I think we all expected and hoped that these kinds of days were behind us. But, yes, it was very difficult again for everyone to deal with.

“There’s just been a lack of clarity, which makes it difficult for me to manage the team and manage the players individually.

“And I have to say a massive thanks again to the squad, five of whom played despite not having been paid.

“That’s not to discount any of the other players who did exactly the same earlier this season when this happened before.

“It’s just a really special group really, given what they’ve been through.

“They’ve gone above and beyond this year for the club, and people shouldn’t forget that.”

For Rotherham boss Matt Taylor, it was a case of enjoying the day with the job for the season having already been done.

“It was their moment, this, and for the players,” he said. “It was a reward and recognition for what they’ve done over the previous 45 games.

“We did what we set out to do, and we achieved that last Monday. This was a celebration of that.

“In the first half, I quite liked us as a team, and we created enough openings to probably go ahead in the game.

“In the second half, we became a little bit disjointed, along with the game.

“But I don’t want to read too much into that, because we’d already done our work for the season. And it was a great moment at the end for the players, to be able to celebrate with the fans.

“I’ve just been told that’s been our best away following for nine years, and I think that shows the connection between the fans and this group of players – and it’s all about trust.

“I came in a couple of months into the season, and I’ve started to build that trust with them, as they have with me.

“The fans are the same, and they’ll only do that if we achieve our goals – and this year, that was staying in the league.”

Tony Smith hailed his Hull FC players for retaining their belief through the bad times after they withstood fierce second-half pressure to beat Wigan and claim a second straight Super League win.

Smith’s men reeled through seven straight defeats earlier this season including a 40-0 derby humbling by neighbours Hull KR, but looked unrecognisable as they surged out to sink the leaders.

Early tries from Darnell McIntosh and Jake Clifford – who would score 10 of his side’s points in their eventual 14-10 win – set the tone before a thrilling rearguard action saw Smith’s side over the line.

Smith said: “I am so happy for the players. We lost seven straight and you could get down and disgruntled and get a defeatist attitude, and they haven’t.

“They’ve been really positive and we kept saying during that time that we wouldn’t be moping around and feeling sorry for ourselves. We just needed to graft through it and get more determined.”

The table now makes distinctly brighter reading for Smith’s men, who had stopped the rot with a win over Huddersfield prior to the international break, but they head to rock-bottom Wakefield next week knowing there is much more to do.

“We’ve got a lot of improvements still to make in order to get more results,” Smith added. “We were average in the second half, we still made errors but they did not hurt us much as they have in other games.

“We’ve got some big matches ahead of us and it’s important that we are in the right frame of mind.”

Wigan head coach Matt Peet admitted his side were second best for long periods of the first half, and were punished by Hull’s energy and determination.

“Some of our defence wasn’t where it needed to be in the first half and on the whole we amended that in the second half, but execution is what prevented us getting the win,” said Peet.

Wigan looked limp for much of the opening period but Iain Thornley’s try on the stroke of half-time gave them hope, and his second straight after the interval set up a grandstand finish.

“Hull were full of energy and they were motivated. They were flying off the line, they were covering each other and they were diving on loose balls,” added Peet.

“For us there’ll be a lot of what-ifs and if-onlys. It’s about handling the pressure in those big moments. We’ve got to learn and improve and develop, but I won’t be stressing too much.”

Peet reserved particular praise for Thornley, whose double marked his first appearance of the season after a long battle to shake off a knee injury.

“I thought he was excellent,” added Peet. “His desire was evident, I loved the way he carried the ball. He worked so hard and I’m so pleased to see him get a performance like that under his belt.”

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