ENGLAND internationals Darrell Goulding and Joel Tomkins each grabbed two tries as Wigan started the year with a comfortable win at Salford yesterday.
The Warriors’ first hit-out of 2011 proved a useful exercise and whetted the fans’ appetites for the new Super League campaign.
While far from being a classic, there were enough promising signs in the six tries-to-four win to suggest Michael Maguire’s men will again be a force to reckon with.
Their attacks were cohesive, they controlled the game well – two of Salford’s tries were scored in the last eight minutes – and fans took heart from seeing three new faces in the side: Jeff Lima, Ryan Hoffman and young-gun Dom Crosby.
But arguably the biggest encouragement was provided by Amos Roberts, who looks to be over the knee problem that derailed his campaign last season.
He was sharp and lively during his first game since August while, elsewhere, Lee Mossop tasted his first action since suffering a shoulder injury in July.
With Sam Tomkins, Martin Gleeson and Pat Richards unavailable through injury, young three-quarters Josh Charnley and Stefan Marsh were handed places in the starting line-up.
Salford included new recruits Luke Patten, Wayne Godwin and Stephen Wild, while former Warriors crowd-pleaser Iafeta Paleaaesina was on a six-man bench; his introduction in the 17th minute prompted louder cheers from the fans of Wigan than Salford. Phil Bailey, who also left Wigan to join the Reds, did not play.
Wearing their new blue away strip, Sean O’Loughlin led the Warriors onto the pitch for their first match of 2011.
And it was the loose forward who created the opening try of the game in the fifth minute, working the blindside to send Goulding dashing in at the right corner with a cut-out pass. Paul Deacon – taking over the kicking duties in Richards’ absence – hit the conversion.
Salford’s reply was immediate, with Thomas Leuluai’s knock-on from the re-start handing them the position from which Chris Nero rounded Marsh and touched down, Daniel Holdsworth’s goal drawing the scores level.
Goulding – who finished a dream 2010 as one of England’s first-choice wingers – grabbed his second try in the 12th minute courtesy of a superb pass from Roberts. Deacon’s goal attempt drifted wide.
Roberts showed some touches of real quality, was safe at full-back and injected himself well into the line when Wigan opted to spread the ball with the same kind of crisp, cascading attacks that became their hallmark last season.
On occasion, Wigan’s defence was given a decent workout, with Salford far more useful than in past campaigns, particularly with scheming full-back Patten on board.
As for the Warriors’ new signings, Lima looked athletic and was hungry for work in an all-round impressive first outing. Hoffman operated on the left flank and didn’t have the same influence, rarely touching the ball in the first half. But he defended well and was vocal, and like his former Melbourne team-mate seemed to slot into the side seamlessly.
Given it was a friendly – and played in wet conditions – ball control was not too bad but the first-half faded as a spectacle the more the coaches rang the changes to their teams. Joel Tomkins extended Wigan’s advantage just before the break, benefitting from a spilled ball to cross unopposed and – with Deacon off the pitch – Karl Pryce expertly hit the sideline conversion.
Lima and Hoffman were among the players withdrawn from the action at half-time, but Wigan started the second-half as they had finished the first, with Joel Tomkins gobbling up Patten’s wayward offload and showing great pace to race over from 40m. The reinstated Deacon made no mistake with the conversion, swelling the scoreline to 22-6.
Maguire tested out various combinations, and perhaps gave an inkling of his plans to manage the hooker position when he rested No.9 Mike McIlorum.
With one of his half-backs, Brett Finch, out for the start of the season, the coach shifted O’Loughlin into the stand-off role – a move that allowed Leuluai to have a stint at dummy-half.
Warriors looked dangerous going forward and frequently pressed for a fifth try, but against the run of play it was Salford who had the best clear cut chance when Mark Henry crossed, only for a try to be ruled out for a forward pass.
Their niggling perseverance eventually paid off when Stefan Ratchford breached the visitors’ line, Holdsworth converting, to take the scoreline to 22-12.
In the final quarter, young prop Crosby – who was not on the team-sheet – came off the bench for his first taste of senior action. The former St Pat’s amateur was one of six youngsters promoted to the full-time squad last autumn and has impressed the coaching staff during training.
Though the result was ultimately immaterial, Wigan ensured the win with their fifth try in the 66th minute.
Evergreen George Carmont peeled away from Ashley Gibson to touch down, though a lot of the credit belongs to Liam Farrell for his mid-field break in the build-up.
The sides exchanged tries before full-time, Pryce diving over unopposed in the 73rd minute and then Rob Parker crossing from close-range.
Winger Jodie Broughton scored a breakaway try in the last play of the game to flatter the scoreline.
Banned forward Gareth Hock and ex-Warrior – and current England RU goldenboy – Chris Ashton were among those who watched the game.