Wigan Warriors 0 St Helens 42

Adrian Lam's young charges faced a baptism of fire - and emerged with real credit in defeat.

Tuesday, 29th September 2020, 9:36 pm
Updated Tuesday, 29th September 2020, 9:56 pm
Umyla Hanley collars counterpart Lachlan Coote

The coach rested his first-choice side for their Challenge Cup semi-final with Leeds in four days - with 20-year-old Harry Smith captaining a side with an average age of 22

But Lam's young side - including a record six on debut - produced a spirited performance in a behind-closed-doors derby in Salford.

Saints were ultimately good value for their seven-try victory, including doubles for Regan Grace and ex-Shevington Shark junior Jack Welsby.

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But in defeat, there were many positives for Lam to take from this loss, not least a powerful performance from debutant prop Ben Kilner.

Umyla Hanley, Sam Halsall, James McDonnell, Harry Rushton and Kai Pearce-Paul could also hold their heads up high.

Not only were six players on debut, but they - and many other fringe players - were playing their first match at any level in more than six months. Of the line-up, perhaps only one or two - Joe Bullock and Ben Flower - may play against Leeds.

On neutral ground and with no crowd, the early exchanges were typically fiery.

A full-throttle charge from Joe Bullock - back from a broken hand - helped create the position for Smith to pressure the line, earning his side a repeat set with a measured kick.

Saints, though, took control with a three try blitz in six minutes to establish an 18-0 lead for half-time.

First, Alex Walmsley crashed over beyond Wells from close range. And two minutes later Welsby darted over in the corner, just after his former Shevington Sharks team-mate Halsall had been sinbinned for a challenge on Lachlan Coote as he kicked the ball.

Grace showed sharp footwork to beat Hanley in the corner for their third and, with Coote masterful with the boot, there may have been fears Saints would pile on the points before the break.

Wigan's uphill battle was made steeper by the loss of Wells to a knee injury - cruelly, his appearance last Friday was his first for Wigan in three injury-disrupted years.

From that point, the Warriors had few attacking chances but there was no shortage of effort in defence across the side, with Rushton and Kilner among those to catch the eye.

Flower, the elder statesman of the side, came off the bench and added some mettle as Hanley and hooker Amir Bourouh tried to add a spark.

Saints were, generally, well-drilled and disciplined and they broke the Warriors' resolve 11 minutes after the restart when Morgan Knowles slid over from Kyle Amor's pass.

Pearce-Paul, a towering forward signed from London a year ago, came off the bench but errors from Wigan - including Smith kicking out on the full - were punished as James Bentley raced through a splintered defence.

Lam's side had a spell pressuring their opponents' line but Saints absorbed the pressure and countered, with Welsby strolling over for his second try. Saints lost Jonny Lomax, an ex-Orrell St James amateur, to the sinbin but powered ahead through Grace's second, with Coote maintaining his perfect record with the boot.

Wigan: Hanley; Halsall, Hankinson, McDonnell, Bibby; Shorrocks, Smith; Byrne, Borough, Bullock, Greenwood, Rushton, Wells. Subs: Flower, Clark, Pearce-Paul, Kilner.

St Helens: Coote; Welsby, Naqama, Simm, Grace; Lomax, Fages; Walmsley, Roby, Leeds, Knowles, Bentley, Graham. Subs: Taia, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Amor, Dodd.

Referee: Ben Thaler

Half-time: 0-18