The great Andy Gregory said after this battle that he
"(couldn't) remember a better 80 minutes of Rugby League in the last 20
odd years". This fantastic battle was with very limited attack but two
packs going ding dong, back and forth with Wigan eventually being the
side to wear down the other.
It was an important one for Wigan who hadn't just
lost all five derbies under coach Adrian Lam but hadn't competed in any
of them either. After the cup surrender at this ground against Leeds it
was quite obvious that the pack had struggled but in comparision to the
side that day - Brad Singleton, Tony Clubb and Ben Flower bring much
needed experience to the line up with the tenacious Morgan Smithies on
It's a shame Harry Smith has been the fall guy the
last fortnight but Lam clearly had to go with a big bench in this game
and he needed the Salford match to add some much needed fitness to some
of those players.
The first half hour was a huge arm wrestle with
practically zero attacking chances but I would say that St Helens
slightly won the territory war with their last tackle options often
having to be defended near the try line by Wigan in comparision to us
only hitting 20/30 metre line in return.
The opening score to St Helens came from nothing.
Jonny Lomax, who'd been struggling with his knee moments before, brought
through missed tackles by Thomas Leuluai and Bevan French to send
Lachlan Coote under the sticks, easy conversion for 6-0.
It was big for Wigan that they responded quickly.
Within four minutes in fact. Joe Greenwood, literally with his first
touch of the bench, made the half break and it got wide to Zak Hardaker
who's kick to the right corner bounced kindly for Jake Bibby to beat
Lomax to the ball and score wide. Conversion missed but I felt 6-4 was
perhaps a right reflection on that first half.
Second half was even better by Wigan. They controlled
it without necessarily dominating but St Helens attacking chances were
pretty limited. Biggest key was that any errors were big errors.
Wigan took the lead on 54 minutes with Leuluai
putting in a powering run near the try line to claim his first try of
the season and his first derby try since 2012. Poor conversion
miss by Hardaker for just 8-6.
A classy try from Bevan French increased that lead on
63 minutes with his attack leaving two Saints defenders tackling fresh
air but Hardaker missed another fairly easy kick which left the match
still in the balance at 12-6. You felt a two score lead was enough, so
that was a bad miss.
Not to worry. Wigan sealed it again with 10 minutes
to go when Greenwood's offload allowed Jackson Hastings to finish on the
left and I said on commentary that "Hardaker will kick this now, one of
his most difficult of the evening"....and he did for 18-6.
Wigan got a bit niggly late on and I think this was
deliberate to let St Helens know they are up for the fight if and when
they meet again. This climaxed with a poor high tackle by Greenwood only
being punished by a sin bin.
Saints will return better with the suspended Alex
Walmsley back next time but nethertheless it was an important and needed
marker laid by Wigan that not only earned the win but also put them top
of the table on the points percentage with Saints having lost twice in a