The original, and some would argue, the best derby in the game was the Rivals round meeting between the fourth placed Wigan Warriors and a St Helens side sitting pretty in second spot but knowing a win would leave them trailing the Dragons at the top of the table, while a loss would see them open the door to third placed Warrington.
Despite both sides coming into tonight on the back of defeats, Saints were the favourites with the bookies, and the pundits, with Wigan having been given a six-point start on the handicap coupon in what for them had been an indifferent season, their fans hoping that they’ve saved their best for the play-offs.
It was Saints who won the meeting between the two sides back at the start of July by 24-6, but a great crowd at the DW Stadium were hoping that it would be much closer this time out.
Regan Grace started and ended the opening try of the game on seven minutes after breaking downfield from his own twenty before being tackled. Two plays later Lachlan Coote threw a long ball to the winger who hugged the touchline and improved the angle for the try provider who easily added the extras for a 6-0 lead.
Hostilities, primarily between James Bentley and John Bateman, broke out after fifteen. Bentley seeming to kick out after Bateman had held onto his foot in the tackle. After several other players joined in the fracas, both players were sin-binned for their actions.
On sixteen Wigan elected to kick a penalty after a Saints infringement, Harry Smith kicking the two points to reduce the arrears.
Wigan had a defensive disaster to concede the second when Partington picked up a Grace Grubber on his own line but had the ball stripped by Lewis Dodd in the shadow of the uprights, the Saints scrum half diving over by the posts. Coote added the conversion for a 12-2 lead.
Both sides were making plenty of errors as the half wore on, possibly due to fatigue after the frantic pace of the game, and Saints took a ten-point lead into the interval.
A swinging arm from Jackson Hasting floored Coote on forty-five but referee Kendall awarded the penalty and took no further action. Lewis Dodd took over the kicking duties with Coote receiving treatment and a head impact assessment.
On forty-nine Bateman was sin-binned for the second time in the game, this time for dissent as referee Kendall’s patience began to run out.
Coote, back on the field after a head knock, missed a simple looking penalty on the hour mark but on the next play Willie Isa was the fourth sin-binning of the night after a high tackle, although he’d been living on borrowed time for a while having previously been put on report.
Within a minute of losing Isa, Wigan conceded again as Mark Percival took an inside pass from Grace to conclude a nice passing mover. Coote was again unable to add the conversion, this one from wide.
An off the ball tackle gifted Saints another penalty on seventy and this time Coote found the target for 20-2, Saints taking the win and improving their win percentage.
The icing on the cake came on seventy-nine when Alex Walmsley muscled his way over the line for the fourth unanswered Saints try of the night. Coote added the conversion after the final hooter for a 26-2 victory.
It was the kind of bad-tempered affair which neutrals associate with the Wigan versus Saints derby. Wigan tried to rattle Saints, and at times they were successful, but they never recovered from the early try and couldn’t find a way over the Saints whitewash while conceding four tries. Saints maintain the pressure on the Dragons while Wigan are now fighting for a play-off place.
Wigan Warriors: Hardaker, Marshall, Gildart, Isa (SB on 61), Bibby, Hastings, Smith (G), Partington, Shorrocks, Havard, Farrell, Pearce-Paul, Smithies. Subs: Bateman (SB on 15 & 50), Byrne, Bullock, Bourouh.
St Helens: Coote (4G), Naiqama, Welsby, Percival (T), Grace (T), Lomax, Dodd (T, G), Walmsley (T), Roby, Lees, Thompson, Bentley (SB on 15), Knowles. Subs: McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Paasi, Smith, Batchelor.
Referee: Chris Kendall.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-6, (SB), (SB), 2-6, 2-10, 2-12 : HT : 2-14, 2-18, 2-20, 2-24, 2-26: FT.