St Helens 22 Wigan 19: Five things we learned
1. In all the debates and discussions and flash-points and talking points, everyone can agree on one thing - that was a proper derby!
The game ignited early and rarely relented, with bruising challenges, stylish tries, a seesawing second-half and a dramatic finish.
Thomas Leuluai’s late drop-goal appeared to be enough, but classy centre Mark Percival snatched the ball from Lewis Tierney’s grasp - and with it the win - and the result didn’t go Wigan’s way.
If we had more games with uncertainty before kick-off about the result, an absorbing 80 minutes of action and a tight ending, Super League would be better for it.
2. First, the positives.
There was much to admire about Wigan’s performance, not least their defence. They ripped into Saints, frequently harassing them, with Micky McIlorum, Sam Powell and Willie Isa - save for one blemish - leading the charge. Frank-Paul Nuuasala produced the type of performance fans have been craving from him - forgiving one or two errors - young forward Jack Wells did well and Joe Burgess produced several quality plays. It may be a crumb of comfort that of Saints’ four tries, three came from kicks - ex-Warrior Matty Smith was on-form with the boot - and Wigan were only broken down once, for Percival’s first try.
3. Now a negative.
For the second week running, Wigan faded when Sean O’Loughlin left the action. At Magic, Warrington scored two quickfire tries once the captain had been spelled, and Wigan had their lead cut from 14-6 to 14-12 without the veteran loose-forward. It’s easy to see what O’Loughlin brings to the side as a player - his carries, tackles and passes. Much harder to quantify his influence on the players around him... though it’s hard to think the way they dropped was a coincidence.
4. Fans had been warned to expect extra security measures - they may not have expected to see armed police outside the Totally Wicked Stadium.
Their presence was in response to Monday’s bombing in Manchester, a tragedy which was marked with an impeccably observed minute’s silence before kick-off, and a ‘Manchester’ chant in the 22nd minute - to remember the 22 lives lost in the terrorist attack.
5. Wigan haven’t won in four successive Super League games.
That cold statistic perhaps paints an unfair picture, as there was a comfortable Challenge Cup win in the middle of that run, an exciting draw with Warrington and this derby went down to the wire - the last three weeks have been richly encouraging. But the Warriors need points on the board if they are to make up lost-ground on the top-four and, while others may moan about playing on Monday - a congested schedule introduced to accommodate an England training camp in Dubai which didn’t happen - Shaun Wane and his players seem glad they get the chance to play so soon. Wakefield are the visitors on Monday.