Did I say it would be difficult? Damn right it was. Did I mention gnarly old schemers like Stacey Jones and Jason Croker? Damn right I did, and they certainly schemed gnarly. But nobody expected the Catalans' tactics; not many teams set out to whack Wigan in the chops early doors and get away with it. I remember Leeds in the '96 Premiership final; they went 12-0 up in 10 minutes, amid chants of "Yorkshire! Yorkshire!", and then crashed comprehensively.
This time, no. Catalans put on 22 unanswered points in the first half, and although the predictable counterblitz was suitably ferocious, there was simply too much water coming in. Wigan got back to within seven points whilst Jones was off the park, sinbinned for an unprofessional professional foul, but as soon as he got back on, he trimmed a neat grubber kick among the posts for Croker to score the game-breaker. But it would be easy and obvious to give the various Aussies and New Zealanders the credit. After all, most journos don't know any of the other players..
In the second-half crisis, it looked like Wigan would just rip away, cracking the line too often and running the Catalans into the ground. It has happened so often. But the crack never came. The credit, as for the whole performance, goes to the Catalan forwards. Mostly a gaggle of French no-names (although real trainspotters would of course remember Jerome Guisset, ex-Warrington, and Sebastian Raguin, once described as a "mountain on wheels" by the BBC at Toulouse), they just beat Wigan into the ground. Guisset and his fellow prop, Alex Chan, did the full 80 minutes, which don't happen often today.
The tactics were brilliantly dull; savage up-and-in defence, denying Wigan time and walloping their organisers as often as possible, a massive forward effort, and good tactical kicking. Wigan couldn't get out, and were pressed back on their own lines; Jones and Croker could always pick out the opportunities that resulted. It has come to something when Wigan are the flaky, stylish losers who get muscled out of the game by a French side.