Salford Red Devils 18 Wigan Warriors 28

Zak Hardaker started life as a Wigan player with a try
Zak Hardaker started life as a Wigan player with a try

Zak Hardaker marked his return after 16-months out with a try as Wigan dialled up their preparations for a title defence with a pre-season win at the AJ Bell Stadium.

Former England full-back Hardaker - back from a doping ban which wiped out his 2018 - had a strong first outing in his first appearance in a Warriors shirt.

He did everything asked of him over 80 minutes, and kicked four goals from five attempts to finish with a personal tally of 12 points.

Fellow recruits Jarrod Sammut and Joe Bullock also figured in a friendly which registered a notch higher than many pre-season friendlies in terms of both ball-control and entertainment.

It was a useful exercise as Adrian Lam got the chance to run the rule over the bulk of his squad - only Sean O'Loughlin (rested) and Thomas Leuluai (suspension) didn't feature - ahead of their Super League opener on January 31.

Salford took a 4-0 lead but once Wigan found their rhythm, they established a 16-4 lead by half-time. George Williams was particularly lively as he created tries for Liam Farrell and Tom Davies.

Wigan, wearing their new blue away kit, fielded a much-changed side as the second-half unfolded but still had enough to secure the win.

Their 12-man bench featured nine players backing up from Friday's win against London Skolars, including two-try ex-Barrow prop Bullock.

Salford's side included ex-Warriors Lee Mossop and Greg Burke, as well as Jackson Hastings, who played a key role in securing their top-flight survival last year and later rejected Wigan's advances.

And it was Hastings who carved out the hosts' first try, stabbing a kick into the in-goal and Ken Sio beat Grand Final hero Dom Manfredi to the ball. Ed Chamberlain was off-target with his conversion attempt.

Wigan remained on the back-foot for a spell but defended well before they got their share of the ball.

Hardaker made two useful carries and Williams began putting his fingerprints on proceedings, even if Wigan's last-play kick options were poor.

When they ran the ball they looked more of a threat, and Williams' footwork prised open the Red Devils defence enough for Farrell to power over.

Hooker Sam Powell then squeezed over from close range - although the steady Sammut deserved the credit for a kick which forced a repeat set - and with Hardaker hitting his second goal, Wigan led 12-4 before the half-hour mark.

And before half-time, the visitors' dominance was rewarded when a sweet cut-out pass from Williams found Davies unchecked on the wing to open up a 12-point gap.

If that lead looked comfortable, Salford scored twice in 12 minutes to reduce the margin to two points.

First, ex-Warrior Gil Dudson, not named on the teamsheet, made inroads with a charge which provided the position for Joey Lussick to dart over. Chamberlain's goal cut the visitors' lead to six points.

Liam Marshall, Chris Hankinson, Bullock and Morgan Escare were all introduced as Lam began to make use of his extended bench before the home side went over again, Jake Bibby finishing off a scramble in the corner.

Lussick took over the goal-kicking duties from the injured Chamberlain, and saw his effort hit the post, and then the crossbar, before ricocheting clear - preserving Wigan's slender lead.

In the last quarter, Hardaker moved to centre in a reshuffle which saw Jake Shorrocks go into the halves, Escare to full-back and Josh Ganson play at hooker.

As they settled into their roles, Bullock and Liam Byrne - promoted to the senior squad this year - caught the eye with some punching drives before Wigan scored their first try of the half.

Joe Greenwood offloaded to Liam Marshall, who in turn fed Escare and the Frenchman blazed away for a try which Hardaker converted.

And the towering Greenwood ripped through the Red Devils defence moments later, finding Hardaker in support for a try which he converted.

Derrell Olpherts went over to ensure Salford had the final say.

Wigan will take a team to Barrow next Saturday, but Lam is expected to rest the squad which will face St Helens in their opener.

Salford: Evalds; Sio, Sa'u, Chamberlain, Bibby; Lui, Hastings; Mossop, Lussick, Murray, Jones, Turgut, Burke. Subs: Griffin, McCarthy, Nakubuwai, Flanagan, Olpherts, Davies-Aspey, Wellington, Dudson.

Wigan: Hardaker; Manfredi, Sarginson, Gildart, Davies; Williams, Sammut; Flower, Powell, Clubb, Isa, Farrell, Hamlin. Subs: Greenwood, Navarrete, Partington, Bullock, Escare, Shorrocks, Tautai, Byrne, Hankinson, Marshall, Ganson, Mullen.

Referee: Liam Moore

Half-time: 4-16

Attendance: 2,190