Leigh Centurions 26 Wigan Warriors 20

Liam Marshall goes over for a try
Liam Marshall goes over for a try

NEW recruit Willie Isa made a surprise Wigan debut as a youthful side were edged out in an entertaining friendly at Leigh.

Isa - not included in the initial squad - was drafted in to replace Joel Tomkins in the second-row in their first hit-out of the year.

Wigan took a 14-0 lead early on and were ahead 20-16 at one stage in the second-half, only to let their advantage slip.

Still, it was a worthwhile exercise as they brushed off the cobwebs and polished some combinations for the upcoming season.

Leigh have made no secret of their ambition of reaching Super League and many of their big-name recruits featured.

Former Australia international Willie Tonga, ex-Man of Steel Rangi Chase and Gareth Hock figured in a strong, experienced line-up. They also included ex-Warrior Harrison Hansen, even though he has a one-match ban to serve - Leigh had even said in the week that he would miss the game due to suspension.

For Wigan, this game was always with one eye on the future. At least 10 frontline stars were either rested or injured and, while there were some familiar faces, their squad was dominated by fringe players and Under-19s.

Shaun Wane took a watching brief, giving assistant coach John Winder and head of youth Matty Peet the coaching reins.

They had challenged the young players to “poke their head up” and several did, including prop Joe Bretherton, strong-running forward Macauley Davies and two-try winger Liam Marshall.

Before kick-off, a minute’s applause was held to honour Leigh legend Tommy Sale, who died two weeks earlier.

Despite the bitterly low temperatures and the high prices - adult tickets were £20 - a decent crowd turned out to get their first rugby league fix of 2016.

And the contest proved more entertaining than many pre-season offerings.

Former Widnes forward Isa made no eye-catching contributions but put in a solid defensive stint as Wigan took a 14-0 lead inside as many minutes.

But the rest of the opening half belonged to the Centurions as they racked up three tries of their own to edge 16-14 ahead at the break.

Josh Charnley, featuring for the first time on the left wing, pounced on Greg McNally’s poor wayward pass in the fourth minute to get the scoring underway.

Generally, the skill-level was good for the first run of the year, but a forward pass from Cory Paterson gifted the visitors possession and full-back Lewis Tierney sent Marshall - who replaced Dom Manfredi on the right wing - over in the corner. Sam Powell converted his first of two goals.

Fuifui Moimoi was penalised for a high shot on Ben Flower and, from that position, Marshall swept over from a smart Anthony Gelling pass for his second try in four minutes.

But four successive penalties helped Leigh claw their way back as Tonga, who moved to Leigh from Catalans in the winter, put winger Liam Kay over to reduce the deficit to 10 points.

Adam Higson stepped past Charnley for their second try in the 27th minute and just before the break, Sam Hopkins powered beyond stand-off Nick Gregson, who was injured in the attempted tackle. Lee Mossop also left the action, running straight down the tunnel and not returning after the interval.

The Warriors made a bright start to the second-half, Charnley finishing off an 80m move which he started - rapid Gabriel Fell was also involved - to send them 20-16 in front with Powell’s conversion.

But the lead didn’t last long as McNally latched onto Chase’s pass to punish a fragmented defence to lock the score.

After Taulima Tautai was penalised, Jamie Acton then crossed under the sticks to open up a 26-20 lead. Chase sliced a drop-goal attempt wide in the final few minutes, but errors by winger Liam Paisley and a lack of creativity conspired to prevent Wigan from mustering a match-levelling score.

Wigan are expected to field a stronger line-up in their only other senior friendly, at Salford next Sunday. They start the new Super League campaign at home to Catalans on February 5.

Leigh: McNally; Higson, Worthington, Tonga, Kay; Ridyard, Chase; Moimoi, Higham, Hock, Hansen, Dixon, Paterson. Subs: Beswick, Weston, Pownall, Spencer, Armstrong, Foster, Acton, Maitua, Hopkins, Harper.

Wigan: Tierney; Charnley, Gelling, Gildart, Marshall; Gregson, Powell; Flower, Waterworth, Bretherton, Davies, Isa, Tautai. Subs: Fell, Sutton, Shelford, Ganson, Mossop, Wells, Paisley.

Referee: Ben Thaler

Attendance: 4,614

Half-time: 16-14