Leigh Centurions 50 Wigan 10

Michael McIlorum wasn't playing, but led Wigan Warriors our for his testimonial match against Leigh Centurions
Michael McIlorum wasn't playing, but led Wigan Warriors our for his testimonial match against Leigh Centurions

Wigan conceded 44 points without reply as they were comfortably beaten in Micky McIlorum’s testimonial match.

The Warriors’ first game of 2017 - and their first since last October’s Grand Final triumph - proved a real mixed bag.

Thomas Leuluai marked his return to Wigan with the opening try for his side as they matched Leigh two tries each during a tight, entertaining opening half which the home side edged 12-10.

But Shaun Wane brought on many of his young players for the second-half and they were clinically put to the sword by a rampant, more experienced, Leigh side.

The Centurions, preparing for their return to Super League, scored seven second-half tries as Cory Paterson finished with a hat-trick.

The early activity - three tries inside 12 minutes - hinted at a seesawing derby. But there was only one further try in the rest of the opening half, before the Leigh onslaught began.

Wane had said in the build-up he was more concerned with blowing away the cobwebs and developing ‘good habits’ than the result.

There was plenty of encouragement in the opening half - Leuluai’s return, Ryan Sutton’s strong-running, George Williams looking sharp.

The second-half, though, gave his fringe players an acid-test, with Anthony Gelling and Lewis Tierney the only players expected to start the opening Super League game on February 11.

Credit to Leigh. They attacked with energy and panache and on this evidence, they will head into their top-flight campaign in confident mood.

Wigan started with a strong side. McIlorum was unable to play in his testimonial match due to an ankle complaint, but fans got their first sight of French livewire Morgan Escare in a Wigan shirt. He started at full-back - fellow recruit Romain Navarrete was on the bench.

There were other frontline players in the 21-man squad, including Frank-Paul Nuuausala and Sean O’Loughlin, as well as a scattering of young players. Of those, winger Liam Marshall had some eye-catching half-chances in the first-half.

Leigh had ex-Warriors Ryan Hampshire, Gareth Hock and Harrson Hansen in a squad featuring new recruits Glenn Stewart, Ben Crooks and Atelea Vea.

McIlorum led the visitors out, dressed in full-kit, and after a minute’s applause the game started at a quick pace.

Wigan had the first attacking chance, Williams threading the ball through for Marshall to go close. A subsequent attack broke down, allowing Leigh to open the scoring, as former Castleford centre Ben Crooks scooped up the loose ball to race 90m to the line. Ben Reynolds converted.

Leuluai marked his return to Wigan with a neat try, following up his own kick. And from the resulting set, they scored another - a stylish effort which started inside their own half when Williams angled a kick through for winger Marshall, who fed Gildart. Escare converted one of the two attempts to put them 10-6 ahead.

There was a scattering of penalties which gifted both sides cheap field position, but it wasn’t a dirty game. Exchanges were quite even, with Williams’ impeccable kicking giving the visitors the upper hand for a spell, though they were able to push home their advantage. Instead, Leigh drew level when Paterson cut through Wigan’s jagged-right edge. Reynolds’ goal nudged them 12-10 ahead.

Both sides took advantage of their eight-men benches, with Navarette showing some encouraging signs of aggression and energy, and his fellow Frenchman Eloi Pelissier buzzing up the Centurions attack.

Liam Forsyth, who has returned to Wigan after a season at Bath RU, looked assured at the right centre after Oliver Gildart had limped off.

The error-count increased as tiredness crept in - Escare was guilty of kicking out on the full - but there was no further score before the break.

Wane brought more of his fringe players on at half-time, including halfbacks Jake Shorrocks and youngster Josh Woods, and Leigh’s experience came to the fore as they chalked up three unanswered tries inside 15 minutes.

A string of penalties marched Leigh into good territory, and Crooks arced around his marker to score his second try. Danny Tickle crossed moments later after strong approach work from ex-Bradford player James Clare to make it 24-10.

Wane brought Frank-Paul Nuuausala on for a spell to add some size, bite and experience, but they remained on the back foot, as the Leigh fans vocally lapped up their lead and extended their advantage through Jamie Acton. With Reynolds impeccable with the boot, it opened up a 30-10 lead.

Wigan just couldn’t get their hands on the ball, as Leigh powered ahead from smart play, tapping quickly from a 40-20 - one of the rule changes introduced this year - for Paterson to cross. Reynolds made it 36-10.

Tierney, who starred for Scotland in the Four Nations, replaced Escare at full-back but it remained a youthful line-up, and they were incapable of halting Leigh’s attack as Clare touched down in the corner. Reynolds was off target for the first time, but compensated with a try moments later from an elusive midfield dart by Josh Drinkwater.

Wigan dug their heels in for the final few minutes, Tierney adding some life to a misfiring attack, but Paterson had the final say.

The Warriors have one more senior friendly, at Catalans next Saturday, before the new season begins.