Leigh Centurions 18 Wigan Warriors 20: Jai Field injured in opener

Wigan lost new signing Jai Field to injury - and nearly lost to the Super League newcomers.

Friday, 26th March 2021, 10:24 pm
Updated Friday, 26th March 2021, 10:30 pm
Jake Bibby goes over for his opening try
Jake Bibby goes over for his opening try

Aussie Field, playing on the wing, limped off in the 19th minute with a hamstring injury after hyper-extending his leg chasing a loose ball.

His absence compounded Adrian Lam's early season injury woes, with wingers Liam Marshall and Dom Manfredi - as well as centre Oliver Gildart - all sidelined.

And the coach's problems deepened soon after as Leigh roared into an 18-0 lead before the half-hour mark to put the Warriors on the ropes.

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Wigan, though, grew stronger as the game unfolded as touchdowns from Jake Bibby and Zak Hardaker before the break reeled in the margin to 10 points.

And then two tries in the space of three minutes flipped the game on its head, as Joe Bullock thundered over and Bibby raced over for his second try to put Wigan 20-18 ahead.

With England coach Shaun Wane watching on at an empty Headingley Stadium in Leeds, John Bateman made his return to the club in the second-row but was soon shifted to centre in a makeshift backline.

And after settling into the contest he showed glimpses of his quality, while in reflection Harry Smith, Ollie Partington, Sam Powell and Zak Hardaker all made noticeable contributions.

As well as Field - usually a halfback or full-back - on one flank, teenager Umyla Hanley was on the other edge for his second senior appearance. And the son of legend Ellery lined-up directly opposite Lewis Tierney - whose dad is another Wigan great, Jason Robinson.

Tierney was joined by fellow ex-Warriors Matty Russell, Joe Mellor and Ian Thornley in a Centurions team desperate to mark their return to Super League with a major scalp. And despite having not played a competitive match in more than a year they were rapid out of the blocks, playing with energy and aggression to take an early 6-0 lead.

With Wigan looking rattled, captain Liam Hood drove for the line and plunged the ball over for a try which was given the green-light by the video official.

Ryan Brierley converted.

Hanley was tested with three high balls and defused them all. And then came a major flashpoint as Field went down, and was helped from the field by his childhood mate Jackson Hastings, who was running the water after being overlooked for selection as he settles back in.

In the subsequent reshuffle, Jake Bibby moved to the wing and Bateman to centre. The latter's error gifted Leigh possession from which Ian Thornley - a double-winner with Wigan in 2013 - sliced past Willie Isa in the 24th minute.

And two minutes later, Hood carved the shell-shocked Warriors apart down the middle and kicked the ball on for Ben Hellewell to scoop up and ground. Brierley's two goals made it 18-0.

Wigan, though, settled down and countered with two tries before the break, both down the right edge.

First, Bateman's basketball pass allowed Bibby - the player who scored Wigan's last try of 2020 - to open the club's account this year.

And then smart play by new captain Thomas Leuluai sent Bibby racing away down the right, and he fed Hardaker for the try - though he was unable to kick any of the conversions to make it 18-8 at the break.

Half-time seemed to interrupt Wigan's new-found momentum and errors crept in, as the sides headed into the final quarter without any side going too close to scoring. Bateman suffered an injury-scare as his knee was twisted in a heavy tackle, though he was able to battle on.

But Lam's outfit persevered, and the lively Harry Smith's offload sent Bullock crashing over in the 63rd minute. Hardaker's first goal cut the margin to just four points, and then - two minutes later - his mazy run against a tiring defence created the chance for Bibby to slide over for his second try to lock the score.

Hardaker's conversion nudged Wigan into a 20-18 lead to set the stage for a gripping finish in the final 10 minutes. They didn't manage to score but they held on to secure an edgy, hard-fought victory.

Leigh: Brierley; Tierney, Brand, Thornley, Russell; Mellor, Wallace; Sidlow, Wood, Ioane, Gee, Hellewell, Thompson. Subs: Peteru, Eaves, Mason, Foster.

Wigan: Hardaker; Field, Isa, Bibby, Hanley; Leuluai, Smith; Singleton, Powell, Bullock, Bateman, Farrell, Partington. Subs: Havard, Byrne, Shorrocks, Smithies.

Referee: Ben Thaler