CHAMPIONS Wigan battled to a thoroughly-deserved 12-4 victory at Warrington in atrocious conditions.
Priced at 2/1 to win with the bookmakers, they defied those odds with their most impressive performance of the year so far, full of character and no shortage of composure.
In their first meeting since last October’s Grand Final, the Warriors established an 8-0 lead at half-time and swelled their advantage with a Blake Green try.
But Warrington roared back to ensure the derby got the tense finish it deserved.
Perhaps inevitability for this time of the season and the turnovers in personnel, there is the potential for vast improvement in both teams. But Wigan at least appear on the right path.
Shaun Wane will hope this victory - and the gutsty manner in which it was achieved - will spark their campaign into life after a post-World Club Challenge lull.
Wane made just one change to the line-up which beat Hull KR 34-20, replacing Jordan James with Tony Clubb on the bench. But Wigan’s cause wasn’t helped by the continued absences of Sean O’Loughlin and Mike McIlorum to injury and suspension respectively.
Despite those key ommissions, they controlled the opening half and were good value for their 8-0 lead at the break.
If anything, the scoreline flattered the home side, who persistently coughed and spluttered and lost the vital battleground down the middle. With their halfbacks appearing devoid of ideas, by contrast, Matty Smith and Blake Green were smart and astute, and linked up well with the fast-improving Matty Bowen, who sprinkled his class on the contest.
The Warriors twice engineered openings on Joel Monaghan’s wing in the first quarter. The second, from Bowen’s pass to Joe Burgess, saw the winger tear away and unselfishly send the supporting Liam Farrell over for a try in the 10th minute.
Smith slipped, but watched as his conversion arrowed between the sticks to make it 6-0.
It seemed each time Warrington were presented with a sniff to get a foothold in the contest, they would squander it, either with a wasteful pass, spilled ball or penalty, and all under pressure from a ferocious group defensive effort.
And when Ryan Atkins ran across to barge Smith out of the way as he chased Green’s bomb, the Warriors won a penalty. From 35m out and in front of sticks, the half-back shanked the penalty but still saw it float between the sticks to stretch their lead before the interval.
Farrell, who ran strong throughout, wrestled free from the defence to break free and feed Green in the 50th minute. The stand-off, man of the match in the Grand Final, took great delight as he slid over in front of the vocal away support.
Surprisingly, Smith - having nailed seven goals in a row trailing back to last week - hit the upright with a relatively simple attempt.
But at 12-0, the scoreline at least began to reflect the visitors’ superiority. Inching towards the final quarter, Asotasi’s return from the bench - and Matty Russell’s introduction - injected spark into the home side, who kept the Warriors pegged back into their own 40m.
And with a creeping sense of inevitability, they made their improvement count when rookie winger Gene Ormsby picked off Bowen’s pass - aimed for Charnley - and raced over to squeeze the margin back to eight points.
But Wigan recovered, and though Smith pushed a penalty attempt wide, they clung on for a deserved win.
Warrington: Ratchford; Ormsby, Bridge, Atkins, J Monaghan; O’Brien, Myler; Hill, Higham, Asotasi, Waterhouse, Westwood, Grix. Subs: Laithwaite, Riley, Russell, M Monaghan.
Wigan: Bowen; Charnley, Goulding, Thornley, Burgess; Green, Smith; Taylor, Tomkins, Crosby, Bateman, Farrell, Flower. Subs: Hughes, Pettybourne, Clubb, Williams.
Referee: Phil Bentham
Starman: Joe Burgess