Salford 10 Wigan Warriors 16

Pat Richards on the charge against Salford
Pat Richards on the charge against Salford

WIGAN made a modest debut on a new stage as they struggled to see off battling Salford.

Shaun Wane’s side just never found their groove in an uninspiring game which rarely burst into life.

The only real entertainment came from the closeness of the scoreline, as the home side kept with their illustrious visitors until the death.

Pat Richards gave Wane’s side a 4-0 lead with a fifth minute try, but the match flatlined as a spectacle until Danny Williams drew the Reds level - a try which raised the stakes and lifted the intensity marginally.

Sure, Wigan’s defence received a thorough workout and restricted the home side to just two tries, while Sam Tomkins again illustrated his class with a display oozing invention, enthusiasm and composure.

It was the full-back who breathed life into the game with his side’s second try in the 56th minute, and Liam Farrell ensured there would be no late scare by crossing in the dying minutes.

But until those closing stages, Wigan’s attack lacked bite and direction, their performance was littered with errors and their kicking game was functional at best.

Wane, a hard task-master who sets impeccable standards, will no doubt scrutinise footage of this match over the coming days as he prepares for their opening Super League game on February 5.

The coach rolled out the big-guns with substitute Joe Mellor, a promising halfback, the only inexperienced player in his panel.

Former Hull FC powerhouse Epalahame Lauaki started at prop while another new recruit, Ben Flower, earned a bench spot. Sam Tomkins and George Carmont got their first run-outs, having been rested for the friendlies against Hull KR and Huddersfield.

The chance to see the first-team in action together for the first-team part-explained why Wigan’s fans turned out in strength. Another was to experience the City of Salford Stadium for the first time.

The new facility - in the shadows of the Barton Bridge - is similar to Leigh Sports Village in style and size. The banks of grey walls gives it a surgical feel, but it is comfortable, well-lit - and a vast improvement on The Willows, their crumbling shambles of a former home.

Salford were captained by Stephen Wild - the bestman at counterpart Sean O’Loughlin’s wedding - and included other ex-Warriors Jordan James, Wayne Godwin, Iafeta Paleaaesina and juniors Lee Jewitt, Stuart Howarth and Josh Veivers in their side.

To continue the Wigan link, ex-assistant Phil Veivers took charge of the Reds - with former halfback Sean Long as his No.2.

A scrappy opening saw the ball turned over three times in rapid succession.

But Wigan - wearing their new home strip, in contrast to Salford’s Canberra green-style away kit - had the first real chance when Gareth Hock pierced the defence with a barnstorming run, and the ball was spread across the line to allow Richards to slide over for a fifth minute try that he failed to convert.

Salford were quick to counter with some neat attacking passages, testing Wigan’s resolve. Those promising signs soon deteriorated, however, with both sides coughing and spluttering through the next quarter-of-an-hour without conjuring any real chances.

Darrell Goulding and Sam Tomkins did well to deny speedy winger Jodie Broughton, but Wigan’s failure to build any pressure came back to haunt them as the Reds worked their way up field, and eventually drew level through a looping pass to unmarked winger Williams. Aussie stand-off Daniel Holdsworth sliced the conversion wide.

That try, approaching the half-hour mark, breathed life into The Reds, and the visitors were thankful for Sam Tomkins’ assuring presence for defusing troubling kicks. At the other end, full-back Tomkins threaded a ball into the in-goal which Richards thought he had grounded, only for referee Richard Silverwood to wave away his claims.

Tomkins continued to prove to be Wigan’s liveliest threat and an improvised, angled shallow kick went close to sending Charnley clear on the right edge just before the half-time whistle.

The game was put on hold for several minutes early into the second-half after Vinnie Anderson received a bad knock, but thankfully, he managed to hobble off the field unaided.

Salford’s enthusiasm had Wigan rattled for spell, and again Tomkins highlighted his defensive abilities to stop Holdsworth.

Lauaki and Carmont added to the team’s extensive errors list, and when the jaded Brett Finch threw an intercept it allowed Williams to scorch downfield only for Tomkins to spare their blushes.

Having survived that scare, Wane saw his side re-take the lead and fittingly it was Tomkins who provided the spark, carving a scattered Reds defence wide open from 20m out after Carmont and Richards had inflicted the initial damage down the left channel. Richards’ conversion put them 10-4 ahead approaching the hour-mark.

The Warriors frantically pressed for another score and Carmont thought he was away, only for Silverwood to call the move back for a forward pass from Richards. Had the referee not intervened, he may have taken issue with Holdsworth, who attempted to stop the Samoan centre by kicking a loose ball on the pitch at his feet!

Farrell put the game to bed when he stormed onto Finch’s short-pass to cross, Richards swinging the goal in masterfully to put them 16-4 ahead.

Paleaaesina powered over in the final minute of the contest for a try which was applauded by all sides of the stadium.

Salford: Patten; Broughton, Gibson, Moon, Williams; Holdsworth, Smith; James, Godwin, Jewitt, Adamson, Anderson, Wild. Subs: Nero, Paleaaesina, Gledhill, Howarth, Veivers.

Wigan: S Tomkins; Charnley, Goulding, Carmont, Richards; Finch, Leuluai; Lauaki, McIlorum, Mossop, Hansen, Hock, O’Loughlin. Subs: Lima, Farrell, Tuson, Flower, Mellor.

Referee: Richard Silverwood.

Half-time: 4-4

Starman: Sam Tomkins