Widnes Vikings 32 Wigan Warriors 33

Wigan's Sam Powell makes a tackle
Wigan's Sam Powell makes a tackle

SCOTT Taylor opened his Wigan account in thrilling style as Shaun Wane’s young guns emerged from a nerve-shredding encounter with their winning streak intact.

The Warriors looked on the ropes when the home side - inspired by Rhys Hanbury - edged into a 26-22 lead midway through the second-half.

But they battled back to take a grip of the contest, drawing level through Anthony Gelling.

And in a grand-stand finish, Sam Powell help his cool to strike a monster drop-goal before providing the pass for Taylor to dive over for a try which opened up a vital seven-point lead.

Even then, it wasn’t an end to the action, as Patrick Ah Van recorded his hat-trick to close the gap to just one point - but the Super League pace-setters clung on for a hard-fought, scrappy, but exciting win.

And with Huddersfield losing to Hull KR, it opened up a five point gap at the top of the table.

It was the second time that just one point has separated these two famous clubs on this ground in the last year.

Widnes recorded a 37-36 win in this fixture last season against a weakened Wigan line-up and, with Shaun Wane again relying heavily on youngsters, fans may have been fearing a repeat at half-time.

The visitors established a 12-4 lead with tries from Logan Tomkins and Lewis Tierney, sandwiching an Ah Van effort. Gelling - making his return from injury - extended their advantage, but the visitors leaked 12 points to go into the break level at 16-16.

Wane’s drastic team changes led to suggestions he had concerns about the artificial pitch at this venue.

The coach, though, insisted all had legitimate injuries which, in total, robbed him of the services of NINE players who would lay legitimate claims to first-team spots.

Sam Tomkins, Ben Flower, Liam Farrell, Pat Richards and Matty Smith - in addition to injured pair Blake Green and Sean O’Loughlin, and long-term absentees Gil Dudson and Paul Prescott - were missing.

In their place, Wane handed chances to a number of youngsters, so much so that 14 of his 17-man squad had progressed through the academy ranks.

They included Ryan Hampshire and Tierney - on debut - and George Williams in his third match in the senior side.

Widnes coach, and Wigan legend, Denis Betts had worries of his own, with Kevin Brown and Gareth Hock among six ex-Warriors missing - five more made his squad.

The leaders made a flying start, Tierney getting some confidence-boosting early touches and - after Widnes failed to deal with Sam Powell’s monstrous bomb - they worked their way into good position, allowing Logan Tomkins to scoot over from dummy-half for a try at the ground where he made his Super League debut a year ago.

Ah Van countered four minutes later, a penalty piggy-backing Widnes into position and a fast passing exchange finding the winger in space.

But Wane’s men dominated the exchanges and - with dad Jason Robinson watching on - son Tierney poached a nice try to crown his debut. He triggered the move, sending the ball to the left for Iain Thornley, who stood up well in the tackle to off-load to the jet-heeled full-back to cross in the corner.

Josh Charnley masterfully added the sideline conversion to make it 12-4.

It didn’t all go the 18-year-old’s way - he spilled a regulation kick soon after - but his probing runs were hugely encouraging, particularly a 25th minute break which saw him burst through two defenders.

A breakaway by Darrell Goulding set the stage for an unexpected attacking slot, and when WIlliams measured an angled kick to the corner, Gelling leapt to beat Jack Owens to the ball and cross, extending their advantage to 16-4.

Widnes had tricks of their own, though, and scored twice before the interval with Hanbury creating both.

The Aussie full-back exploded onto Macgraff Leuluai’s short ball, drew in Tierney and fed the supporting Adam Lawton. And with the ascendancy behind them heading to the break, they conjured another try to draw the scores level, Hanbury cleverly slicing a kick through for Owens, who found Frank Winterstein in support.

The exchanges were punctuated by some bone-rattling tackles from both sides, including Steve Pickersgill’s thunderous shot on Harrison Hansen, who was captaining Wigan for the first time.

Soon after, the prop attempted to flatten Charnley - only to be left clutching at vapour as the winger stepped and turned on the after-burners to sprint 95m to the line.

The six-point cushion was less than comfortable, but it was the start to the second half that Wane wanted. Gelling had a chance to extend their lead, only to have a try rightly ruled out for a Thornley forward pass, and that missed opportunity came back to haunt them as Widnes were again allowed to draw level.

And, once again, it was Hanbury - their best player by some distance - who produced the goods, standing up Sam Powell and rounding the stand-off for a try Owens converted.

Momentum continued to seesaw, Hansen crossing but denied by the video referee, and from the next set Widnes roared down field and Ah Van galloped over in the corner - from a dubiously-looking forward pass - to hand the home side the lead for the first time.

Wigan - who lost Goulding during the game to sickness - needed composure to claw back from 26-22 down. But back-to-back handling mistakes by Epa Lauaki and Charnley kept them under pressure, and it was only after Ah Van was denied a hat-trick by the video referee that they could breath a little easier.

If Widnes felt hard done to by that decision, it was compounded minutes later when Gelling finished off a sweep to the left, involving Tierney and Thornley, which - after countless replays - eventually got the green light from the official.

Charnley guided the conversion attempt wide - keeping the scores locked at 26-26 with 10 minutes remaining - but Powell nosed them one-point ahead with a long-range drop-goal.

And after Ah Van spilled a pass inside his own 10m, it presented Wigan with a golden attacking chance - which Taylor finished off, to a rapturous response from his team-mates and coaches.

Ah Van redeemed his earlier error, but it wasn’t enough for the home side.

Widnes: Hanbury; Owens, Dean, Isa, Ah Van; Craven, Mellor; Pickersgill, Clarke, O’Carroll, Winterstein, Allen, Cahill. Subs: Leuluai, Lawton, Kavanagh, White.

Wigan: Tierney; Charnley, Goulding, Thornley, Gelling; Powell, Williams; Lauaki, L.Tomkins, Mossop, Hansen, Tuson, Burke. Subs: Hughes, Taylor, Crosby, Hampshire.

Referee: James Child

Half-time: 16-16

Attendance: 6,528

Starman: Sam Powell