Wigan Warriors 6 St Helens 14
St Helens put a hand on the League Leaders' Shield and pretty much sealed a play-off spot before the Super 8s have even kicked off with this win over their closest rivals.
Their 14-6 success over Wigan at the DW Stadium also ensured a derby double over the Warriors this season and keeps Justin Holbrook’s men on course for all three trophies on offer this term.
The result also means Warriors could finish the weekend in third spot if Castleford beat Huddersfield in their clash on Friday night.
In a clash watched by new Super League CEO Robert Elstone, fans got a fast-paced encounter but it would be wrong to say it oozed the kind of quality expected from the league’s front-runners - despite an exciting finish helped by a Sam Tomkins try with 10 minutes to go.
Missing star-man Ben Barba, Zeb Taia and Mark Percival, Saints still managed to do enough for their 100th league derby win over Wigan despite not having to put in a glowing performance. (It will be of little consolation to Wigan fans this weekend that the Cherry and Whites still lead the derby head to head record with 143).
As expected, Wigan coach Shaun Wane handed a debut to centre Chris Hankinson, signed from Swinton on Tuesday. He didn’t look out of place as he covered for Oliver Gildart who is out with a broken thumb, especially given the urgency of his inclusion in the squad.
Many expected St Helens to stretch their unbeaten run to 13 games - and end Wigan’s home record this season - but Warriors looked the brighter of the two in the opening exchanges despite missing Sean O’Loughlin (calf) and George Williams (knee) - as well as being without the likes of Liam Farrell and Joe Burgess for the season.
But the away side got on the board in the 10th minute and didn’t look back.
A knock on from Tommy Leuluai put his side under pressure, and at the end of the set Jonny Lomax’s kick was poorly dealt with thanks to a miscommunication between Dan Sarginson and Liam Marshall which allowed Dominique Peyroux to pounce for an easy try.
Danny Richardson’s goal made it 6-0 and from there Warriors felt on the back foot for most of the first half.
Wigan had few problems encroaching St Helens’ territory but their clunky attack and error-count meant Saints weren’t troubled as much as they should have been - and they had few problems themselves making ground once they had the ball.
A break from Luke Thompson resulted in a penalty when Tom Davies was penalised for holding down, which Richardson elected to kick, and although the scoreboard wasn’t troubled again in the first half it always felt like St Helens had the measure of their opponents.
But they too had mistakes in them, and Adam Swift gifted Warriors a chance with a very poor knock on by his own line from a long range kick which was trickling along the ground.
From here though the opportunity was wasted by Wigan.
Willie Isa wasn’t entirely at fault when an attempted offload was gobbled up by the defence and put out for a drop-out, but Wigan’s failure to convert the repeat set contributed to the feeling of frustration in three of the four stands at the DW Stadium and elation in the other.
Unforced errors were more an enemy to Wigan than Saints’ attack, which didn’t look like it had to climb out of second gear to put Wigan under pressure - though their own finishing was also suspect.
Taulima Tautai gifted possession back to Saints mid-way through a set and in enemy territory around the half-hour mark. The fact he’d been flattened by a three man tackle two plays before only exacerbated the Wigan fans’ frustration - and a turnover on Saints’ line after Gabe Hamlin was caught on the last also saw a chance to reel in the gap on the scoreboard slip through their fingers.
But the highlight of the half did go to Wigan - albeit from a situation brought on by themselves.
A crossfield kick from Leuluai intended for Davies ended up in the wrong pair of hands, and John Bateman - making his return from a groin injury - tracked Tommy Makinson to haul him down before the Saints winger could do more damage.
But the damage eventually came - and it would be fair to say it felt like the game was over with still half an hour to play when Morgan Knowles crashed under three defenders to stretch St Helens’ lead for a try awarded after a short consultation with the video referee. Richardson’s goal put St Helens three scores in front at 14-0 - and it wasn’t the margin and the clock, but Wigan’s flat attack which gave the feeling it was already game over.
As the hour mark approached, Romain Navarrette came closest to getting Wigan on the scoreboard up to that point - though he was rightly penalised for a double movement.
The match flatlined from here - until Wigan finally got on the board to give fans a shred of hope.
A consultation with the video referee with 10 minutes to go when Sarginson crashed over under a pile of defenders was sent up as a ‘no try’ by Robert Hicks and there was no evidence to overturn the call.
But a neat trademark run from Tomkins saw him plonk the ball down for Wigan’s first and only try.
Tomkins hurried the conversion for 14-6 to give his side some hope - and the crowd’s renewed optimism made for a more exciting finish - though there just wasn’t enough time to prevent a second loss on the spin for Wigan.
Sam Tomkins; Tom Davies, Chris Hankinson, Dan Sarginson, Liam Marshall; Josh Woods, Sam Powell; Tony Clubb, Tommy Leuluai, Ben Flower, Willie Isa, John Bateman; Romain Navarrette. Subs: Gabe Hamlin, Liam Paisley, Joe Greenwood, Taulima Tautai
Jonny Lomax; Adam Swift, Tommy Makinson, Ryan Morgan, Regan Grace; Theo Fages, Danny Richardson; Kyle Amor, James Roby, Luke Thompson, Dominique Peyroux, Morgan Knowles; Jon Wilkin
Sub: Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Luke Douglas, Matty Lees, Jack Ashworth
Referee: Robert Hicks