GARETH Hock said in the week that the St Helens fans didn’t like him – and they certainly won’t now!
The second-rower tormented Saints all afternoon, secured the victory – and then celebrated by throwing the ball into the crowd.
At 18-10 the game was very much in the balance when Hock set up a try for Sam Tomkins on the hour, and then crossed for a touchdown himself.
Yet if Hock is a villain on the Dark Side of Billinge Hill, he was very much a hero to the Warriors faithful, who can lay claim to the bragging rights of winning the first derby at Langtree Park.
And what a derby it was, too, as Wigan went two-to-toe with St Helens, dug in deep defensively and – in the heat of the battle – exhibited both patience and composure.
Wigan held a 12-4 lead at the break as tries by centres Darrell Goulding and George Carmont cancelled out Francis Meli’s opener.
And while Saints closed the gap to just two points during a spell of intense pressure in the second-half, Tomkins put Wane’s men back in control.
The Test full-back had spent the past week on an IV drip to accelerate his recovery from tonsillitis, but was at his scorching brilliance in attack, while Hock, Harrison Hansen, Brett Finch and Jeff Lima also excelled in a fabulous team effort.
Despite his injury concerns, Wane was able to name a first-choice backs division and a strong pack. But the knock-on effect of having no Sean O’Loughlin, Ben Flower, Lee Mossop, Epalahame Lauaki or Liam Farrell was a desperately inexperienced bench with an average age of just 20, and with 10 Wigan appearances between them under their belts.
Gil Dudson was making his club debut, following his off-season move from Crusaders, and Logan Tomkins featured in the same team as older brother Sam for the first time in a competitive match.
Saints had selection issues of their own, with centre Josh Jones making just his second senior appearance and Paul Wellens and Anthony Laffranchi missing through suspension.
But after their back-to-back victories over champions Leeds and Super League favourites Warrington, they were not lacking in confidence, and Wane had challenged his players to contain the home side within the opening 20 minutes.
The sold-out crowd created a cauldron atmosphere for the first derby at Langtree Park, and both sides were cagey early on, with stand-in skipper Finch and Carmont – and for the home side, Tom Makinson and Lance Hohaiai – making handling mistakes.
After trading blows for 10 minutes, Saints cracked the score open in fortuitous circumstances. Sam Tomkins collected a kick close to his own line, but the ball squeezed out under a tackle by Jones, and Meli crossed despite the desperate efforts by Josh Charnley to make it 4-0.
Wigan, though, dominated the rest of the half and when James Roby’s pass went to ground, the alert Hansen scooped up the loose ball. From that position, Goulding showed vintage centre class to weave through the covering defence to the line.
With Richards nursing a thigh injury, Charnley stepped up to kick the goal and made no mistake to put the visitors into the lead.
Wigan’s cause was helped considerably by an injury to ex-Orrell St James junior Jonny Lomax, who retired from the action in the 17th minute after dislocating his finger.
By this stage in the past two weeks, Saints had been well on their way to victory – leading 24-0 against Leeds and 22-0 against the Wolves.
But Wigan held a slender advantage, swelling their confidence, as Wane began rolling his troops with Dudson and Hughes entering the fray.
Hock, featuring in his first derby in nearly three years, was desperate to make up for lost time. He frequently broke Saints line with thunderous charges – on one occasion creating the chance for Richards to go close in the corner.
When Wigan were awarded a penalty in front of sticks in the 25th minute, they decided against kicking the two - and that decision paid off spectacularly as Finch’s measured pass put Carmont threw a gap to send the travelling faithful into raptures.
Charnley’s second conversion made it 12-4.
Richards retired from the action before half-time, forcing Goulding to switch to left wing and Hughes to slot in at right centre. Hughes thought he had extended their advantage, only for video referee James Child to rule he had not grounded the ball.
Aussie Richards spent the half-time break jogging up and down the touchline, by which point Wigan had defended their lead after a late Saints rally.
Hock’s indiscipline combined with Spencer’s spill gifted Saints an attacking opportunity. And with three back-to-back penalties in their advantage – Bentham stopped the game to speak to Finch about their discipline – the home side eventually breached Wigan’s line as Soliola crashed over from short-range. Makinson’s conversion cut Warriors’ advantage to a slender two points.
And when Prescott dropped the ball in a carry, the momentum swung firmly in Saints’ favour. Soliola, Makinson and then Jon Wilkin went close, forcing a drop out to keep the visitors under pressure.
Wigan, though, defended tigerishly, throwing their bodies into tackles with reckless enthusiasm – before countering with their first try of the half.
Hock and Josh Perry continued their running battle, but with a penalty going Wigan’s way, Hock bulldozed into Saints’ line and then offloaded a sweet pass for Tomkins, who raced over to touch down – and then goaded the Saints fans with a cheeky celebration.
Charnley’s struck his third successful goal, as the away following chorused “Sam will tear you apart, again”, to take the score to 18-10.
With Hansen leading the brace forwards’ effort, Wigan searched for a knock-out blow, but Charnley lost control of the ball close to their opponents’ line – keeping the game on edge as it entered the final 10 minutes.
Quick hands by Hock and Carmont released Goulding, who raced down the touchline and then chipped ahead for himself – only for Michael Shenton to hold him back. Child decided not to award Wigan a penalty try, but Shenton was dispatched to the sin-bin, and Hock secured the result from the next attack, surging over for the match-clinching try – and then celebrating by throwing the ball into the crowd.
The Warriors weren’t finished, either, as Lima powered onto a short ball to send the away following into applause – and the home fans heading for the exits.
St Helens: Makinson; Gardner, Shenton, Jones, Meli; Hohaiai, Lomax; Perry, Roby, Magennis, Flannery, Puletua, Wilkin. Subs: Soliola, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Flanagan, Clough.
Wigan: S Tomkins; Charnley, Goulding, Carmont, Richards; Finch, Leuluai; Prescott, McIlorum, Lima, Hock, Hansen, Tuson.
Referee: Phil Bentham
Starman: Harrison Hansen