Five things we learned from Wigan’s 26-16 win at St Helens.
1. What. A. Win.
Everything heading into the third derby of the year appeared to be in Saints’ favour. They were at home, well-rested, had a marquee signing on debut and were facing a side beaten at Wembley six days earlier.
The two line-ups were well-matched but the question was how much the Challenge Cup Final loss had taken out of Shaun Wane’s Warriors.
They answered that emphatically, Oliver Gildart’s double followed by a two-try blitz early in the second-half - George Williams striking five goals - and had the dogged determination and desire to hang on for victory at the end.
Take a bow.
2. The win wasn’t just impressive, it was important.
Had Wigan lost, their top-four hopes would have - more than likely - been crushed. Now, they have overtaken St Helens into fifth spot and are just a point behind fourth-placed Wakefield. It has set-up a nervy final three rounds, in which Wigan know if they win them all, they will finish in a play-offs spot. Their run-in is against Hull FC (a), Castleford (h) and Wakefield (a). Trinity also play St Helens and Hull FC.
3. On the whistle, this correspondent picked out the towering Sean O’Loughlin as man of the match.
Willie Isa worked tirelessly - it was hard to know what some Wigan fans loved most: his try-saver on big Alex Walmsley or being sinbinned late on for shoving Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook.
George Williams was also exceptional on a left-edge in which Joe Burgess and Oliver Gildart sparkled. But what about Sam Tomkins? He was competitive, he defused kicking threats, he picked the right passes in attack, and he halted Welsh whizz Regan Grace with a stunning tackle in the corner.
4. Ben Barba marked his high-profile debut with a first-half try... and sparked another debate about the video referee.
The ball came loose as he attempted to ground the ball, official Ben Thaler ruling it had been stripped by Anthony Gelling.
The incident split opinion on Sky Sports - former referee Stuart Cummings thought it should be awarded, Phil Clarke disagreed - and Shaun Wane afterwards said he would like referees to be able to refer decisions upstairs without making an on-field call.
But the frustration for Wigan, and their fans, was that the circumstances were virtually carbon-copy of Tony Clubb’s ‘no try’ at Wembley six days earlier.
“One week it’s lost control over the line, this week it’s stripped over the line, play on, grounded & try!” tweeted Warrington captain and ex-Australia international Kurt Gidley. “The players, coaches, fans are lost?”
5. On Barba, he showed plenty of impressive touches - all energy, changes of direction and balance - to suggest he is going to be a big asset for Saints, and Super League.
St Helens certainly had their moments in front of 15,000-plus fans at the Totally Wicked Stadium, and played their part in an engrossing derby.
Saints are two points behind Wigan, and three behind a top-four spot - but they may not be out of the top-four hunt yet. They have a superior for-and-against which, if that remained, could come into play, and they have arguably the easiest home straight of all the sides battling for third and fourth spots, against Wakefield (a), Huddersfield (h) and Salford (a).