Warrington Wolves travelled the 14 miles up the road to Wigan to kick-off the 2020 Betfred Super League, in what would be a titanic game featuring four tries, a red card, a yellow card and one team down to 11.
Both teams rolled out the new signings with five new names across both squads. George Burgess, Jake Bibby and reigning Man of Steel Jackson Hastings pulled on the Cherry and White, while former Warrior, Anthony Gelling, and Matty Ashton wore the Primrose and Blue.
However, it was an old face who made the first impact in the game as Sean O’Loughlin was penalised on the goal-line and Stefan Ratchford converted for an early Warrington lead.
Wire stretched their lead a bit further as they camped down on the Wigan line.
Ben Murdoch-Masila received an inside ball and bulldozed over George Burgess to score under the posts. Ratchford successful with the boot for an eight point lead.
That lead was swiftly cut as Bevan French sent the Wolves defence around the houses as the stepped and dummied his way between the sticks. Hardaker cut the lead back down to two.
A major turning point came in the 23rd minute as Chris Hill swung both his arms high around Sam Powells neck in the hooker’s attempt to score a try.
A penalty try was awarded and Wigan took a 12-8 lead as Hill was sent off. Unfortunately Sam Powell was stretched from the field in a neck brace and Warriors were forced into a reshuffle.
Tommy Leuluai shifted into the hooking role as O’Loughlin moved from Loose Forward to half-back with Morgan Smithies entering the field.
With Wire down to 12, Wigan had their tails up but another soft penalty inside their own 10-metre line meant Ratchford would cut the gap to two.
With Wire not giving up, Blake Austin accused Morgan Smithies of eye-gouging, with referee, Chris Kendall, not fully convinced on the video evidence, the incident was put on report.
The physicality of the encounter never seemed to falter as the break came, with hard hit followed by high-tackle, followed by another hard hit.
HALF-TIME: Wigan Warriors 12-10 Warrington Wolves
The second-half started just as physical as the first but with less excitement in terms of scoring opportunities.
Tony Clubb came closest though as he chipped the ball over the top of the Wire defence but Matty Ashton was too quick for the Warriors prop and picked the ball up first.
The game opened up once more as Jason Clark’s fifth tackle kick was deemed to be charged down by Joe Burgess, and then stripped the ball from the Warriors winger in the following tackle.
At the other end, Joe Burgess looked to have grounded the ball to stun Warrington, but he was held up by Ashton and Gelling in a stunning defensive play for the visitors.
With less than 20 minutes to go, Wire were still holding on, but with the game opening up and the numerical advantage to Wigan it was only a matter of time before the home side pulled ahead.
Bevan French was once again the provider as he dribbled the ball into the in-goal area. However, with the full-back having been impeded by Mike Cooper’s trip, a penalty try was not awarded and instead a penalty was deemed sufficient.
With two props off the field, Warrington certainly had their work cut out and this time, French threw a long looping pass out to Liam Marshall to push Wigan 16-10 infront.
Despite Wire still piling the pressure on Wigan, Blake Austin’s cross-field kick was picked off by Joe Burgess who raced 80 metres. However, a knock-on from Liam Farrell meant that Wire stayed in the game.
However, Wigan did manage to dot the ball down through Zak Hardaker, however, the ball had previously been in touch after Matty Ashton was dragged down in touch.
Warrington had another chance to level the game in the dying minutes but Austin’s kick once again landed straight into the hands of Joe Burgess.
The winger then knocked the ball in, just 30 metres from his own line but Warrington just couldn’t compose themselves and in the end, Wigan just managed to hold on.
FULL-TIME: Wigan Warriors 16-10 Warrington Wolves
MAN OF THE MATCH: Bevan French
The Wigan utility-back was a surprise call at full-back when the teams were announced but his try in the first try put Wigan on the front foot. His frightening pace along with flashy footwork the Australian was the X-factor for the Warriors on the night and showed just a glimpse of what he can offer in Super League.
French, Marshall, Hardaker, Bibby, J. Burgess, Leuluai, Hastings, Partington, Powell, G. Burgess, Isa, Farrell, O’Loughlin.
Interchanges: Byrne, Clubb, Havard, Smithies
Tries: French, Powell (pen), Marshall
Goals: Hardaker (2/3)
Ashton, Lineham, King, Gelling, Charnley, Austin, Ratchford, Hill, Clark, Cooper, Currie, Murdoch-Masila, Clark.
Interchanges: Philbin, Akauola, Walker, Burrell
Goals: Ratchford (3/3)
Red Cards: Chris Hill
Referee: C. Kendall.
Touch Judges: S. Mikalauskas, M. Griffiths
Video Referee: B. Thaler
Image: @seriousaboutrl (twitter)