St Helens welcomed Wigan Warriors to the Totally Wicked Stadium for the 2019 Betfred Super League Season Opener and it was a classic derby between the two sides in sub-zero temperatures.
With Wigan handed a 2 point deduction just over 24 hours before this game they needed to beat their biggest rivals in what would be a clash of the titans.
The main squad news was that Danny Richardson dropped completely out of the Saints side with Theo Fages and Jonny Lomax starting in the halves.
The first mistake of the game came from Wigan as Romain Navarrete knocked the ball on which allowed Saints a good platform to attack.
This then allowed Saints to score the first try of 2019 and it was one of their new boys as Kevin Naiqama step to the outside of Dan Sarginson and brushed off his opposite number and powered through Liam Marshall to stretch the ball over the line. Mark Percival was handed the kicking duties and he added the extras.
After a knock-on from Regan Grace under the high ball, the Warriors got the chance to peg the Saints back, however, Ben Flower was held up over the line on the last.
Saints stretched their lead in the 15th minute though just as it looked like Wigan were getting back into the game.
Morgan Knowles’ early pass found Dominique Peyroux who broke the line inside Joe Greenwood. He then passed to Jonny Lomax in a two-on-one against Zak Hardaker and then the versatile Lomax scored under the posts on his 200th career appearance. Percival once again converted to double their lead.
A couple of back-to-back penalties from Saints put Wigan in good field position, the Warriors couldn’t finish off the opportunity though.
Saints then went from one end of the field to the other as Regan Grace broke from his own 40 metre line, and the fifth tackle play was shifted out wide to Makinson who wasn’t able to pull off one of his flying finishes.
The Warriors did think they’d managed to pull a score back but Joe Greenwood’s offload to Dan Sarginson was deemed to have travelled forward by referee, Robert Hicks.
They did manage to dot down in the 28th minute though. They were awarded a penalty after Thomas Leuluai was pulled back by Peyroux. They took full advantage as Ben Flower collected a short pass from Sam Powell at the play the ball and crashed over just to the left of the posts. Hardaker added the extras for the Warriors as they pegged Saints back to within six points.
Wigan then forced a goal-line drop out as, once again, a nervous Regan Grace dropped a high ball and it bounced out of the in-goal area.
More ill-discipine from the home side gave the Warriors a fresh set of six but Saints escaped once again.
Liam Marshall then shocked the home fans as Lachlan Coote’s pass was intercepted by the winger near his own line and sprinted 90 metres to score his first try of the season. Hardaker again successful with the boot to level the scores as half-time loomed.
HALF-TIME: St Helens 12-12 Wigan Warriors
The opening ten minutes of the second half weren’t nearly as explosive as the first but it was the Saints who opened the scoring once again.
A repeat set from the home side gave them a good platform to attack and Regan Grace was the scorer as the ball was spread from right to left and the winger left his nerves in the changing rooms to fly over in the corner. Percival dragged the conversion wide as the Saints led by four.
The game started to simmer as the clock ticked towards the hour. Big hits on both Hardaker and Oliver Gildart got the Saints fans bouncing in the sheds.
Both sides were solid in defence as Hicks let a lot of potential high tackles go.
With ten minutes to go Saints still lead by four but Wigan were on the front foot after a Luke Thompson knock on inside his own half. Tom Davies knocked on just a metre out from the St Helens line and the home side escaped once more.
James Roby pushed Saints further ahead as he drove his side down the field and then scooted over from the back of the ruck from five metres out to score. Percival made it three out of four from the tee and Saints led by 10 with just over five minutes remaining.
The Saints managed to see the game out from this point as they kept the Warriors camped inside their own half. The final whistle blew and Wigan were already four points behind their closest rivals after just week one.
Full-Time: St Helens 22-12 Wigan Warriors
MAN OF THE MATCH: Theo Fages – Filling in for the skilful Danny Richardson wasn’t going to an easy task for the French half-back but he was superb in both attack and defence. Joe Greenwood struggled as he couldn’t bust through the diminutive player and he was also very controlled in attack as he allowed Naiqama and Percival to get their hands on the ball.
Lachlan Coote,Tommy Makinson, Kevin Naiqama, Mark Percival, Regan Grace, Jonny Lomax, Theo Fages, Alex Walmsley, James Roby, Luke Thompson, Zeb Taia, Dominique Peyroux, Morgan Knowles.
Subs: Joseph Paulo, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbook, Kyle Amor, Matty Lees
Kevin Naiqama, Jonny Lomax, Regan Grace, James Roby,
Mark Percival (3/4)
Zak Hardaker, Tom Davies, Dan Sarginson, Oliver Gildart, Liam Marshall, George Williams, Thomas Leulaui, Ben Flower, Sam Powell, Romain Navarrete, Joe Greenwood, Liam Farrell, Sean O’Loughlin.
Subs: Gabriel Hamlin, Tony Clubb, Joe Bullock, Willie Isa.
Ben Flower, Liam Marshall
Zak Hardaker (2/2)