Bittersweet dip into rugby union for Wigan Warriors legends
It was a bittersweet dip into the world of rugby union on Saturday for Wigan Warriors legends Sean O’Loughlin and Tommy Leuluai.
The duo were surprise inclusions on the team sheet for the visit of league leaders Eccles.
And they made a big impact, with O’Loughlin orchestrating play throughout and Leuluai crossing for a crucial try in the second half, after sidestepping his way through the defence.
That helped Wigan overturn a 19-7 deficit to lead 24-19 heading into the closing stages.
However, a late converted try saw the visitors home by a couple of points, in front of a packed crowd including most of the Warriors first-team squad.
Eccles brought a sizable and noisy contingent as a decent game threatened to break out in the early stages.
The visitors were fired up and were keen to press their good run of form to their advantage with a turnover around halfway.
Eccles broke down the right side and their rangy winger finished well for the opening score, which was converted.
The game settled as several solid hits in centre field made themselves felt, with many a wince among the crowd.
Again, it was Eccles who found the advantage of a dubiously awarded 50/22 kick, taken from well within Wigan territory, which gave them possession deep in Wigan’s 22.
A coast-to-coast move saw Eccles score down the right-hand side to take a 12-0 lead.
Wigan regained composure and the debutants made their presence felt as the home side moved the ball freely along the back line.
A Wigan free-kick five metres from the opposition line was played along the back line before Will Boardman capitalised on the space to go over in the corner.
Connor Matthews added the conversion from out wide to take the score to 12-7 at the break.
Eccles were on the ascendancy once again at the restart, and a break down the left wing saw them score under the sticks to take a commanding 19-7 lead.
But 13 minutes into the second half, Leuluai showed his class as he dipped his shoulder to send the defence the wrong way and broke the defensive line.
A 30-metre canter took him over for his first try for the Douglas Valley side.
Matthews added the conversion to put Wigan within touching distance at 19-14.
Wigan took heart from the score and after winning a penalty, found themselves with a line-out five metres out.
Barker won the ball off the top and played the ball directly to Adam Dwyer, who burst through and dived over the line.
Matthews added the conversion to give Wigan the lead for the first time in the game at 21-19, with a penalty extending the advantage to 24-19.
With just a couple of minutes left, and with Wigan down to 14 men after having a man sent off for dissent, Eccles made a break down the right hand side.
And the pacy right winger showed a great turn of speed and went over, with the conversion making the final score 26-24.