Wigan 38 Salford 6

Wigan Warriors v Salford City Reds: Sean O'Loughlin slides over for Wigan's final try
Wigan Warriors v Salford City Reds: Sean O'Loughlin slides over for Wigan's final try

PAT Richards struck gold on his return – in front of Olympic hero Bradley Wiggins.

The Tour de France and Team GB superstar was in the DW Stadium directors’ box to see the Australian mark his return from a four-month injury lay-off with an 18 point haul.

The Warriors took advantage of Warrington’s shock 62-18 thrashing at London to tighten their grip at the top of the ladder, opening up a three-point gap, with two Super League rounds remaining. They can secure the silverware if they overcome Hull KR in their next encounter on September 2.

But it was far from the most gripping of contests, with Richards’ successful return – and the right result – providing the lasting memory of last night’s one-sided encounter. Wigan started brightly to race into a 14-0 lead but faded just as fast, with no score from Richards’ second try in the 22nd minute until half-time. Earlier, the Australian had opened the scoring and then sent Sam Tomkins soaring over.

Darrell Goulding, Jack Hughes and Harrison Hansen added touchdowns in an error-littered second-half, which at least helped wipe away the painful memories of the Warriors’ last hit-out – a 30-10 defeat against the Wolves.

Salford were missing human wrecking ball Iafeta Paleaaesina, but boasted plenty of players with Wigan connections in ex-players Sean Gleeson, Josh Veivers, Stuart Howarth, Stephen Wild, Jordan James and Wiganer Matty Ashurst.

The Reds, though, have not been the same side since half-back Matty Smith departed to join the Warriors. They headed into last night’s encounter on the back of four straight defeats and it was obvious early on that they were not going to end that miserable run.

Salford did manage to work their way into Wigan’s territory, but their attack varied from pedestrian to shambolic, and was easily repelled by a mean, fast home defence.

Richards – who replaced Iain Thornley in the side – had his first real chance in the 10th minute, cutting in-field and weaving through a scattered line before being dragged down.

Fittingly, he was on the end of the subsequent attack which saw Carmont shift the ball to his wing, and he had the strength to ground in the corner under a knot of bodies.

He stepped up to kick the conversion and just pushed it wide.

But his try put Wane’s men in the ascendancy, and they extended their advantage almost immediately when Carmont unleashed Richards from his own half, and he unselfishly sent Sam Tomkins ghosting beyond the evergreen Luke Patten.

This time the former Man of Steel made no mistake from the tee, taking the scoreline to 10-0.

Salford had a great chance to respond when Gleeson intercepted, but he was harshly called back for a knock-on when the ball had hit his foot.

And the Reds’ misery was compounded by a ruthless home attack, Brett Finch spotting Richards unchecked and punting a well-weighted kick over for the wing-man to chase and ground. Once again he missed from the sideline.

The game faded quickly as a spectacle, with both sides squandering chances and Tim Roby, in the middle, continuing to baffle with his decisions.

Smith was unable to collect Josh Charnley’s supporting ball from a scorching right-side break, and a rare breakdown in communications between Carmont and Richards saw another chance slip away and they went into the dressing room with just a 14-0 lead. Tomkins’ mesmerising run early in the second-half warranted a try, but the slippery No.1 was tracked back well by Patten, Salford’s best player.

Still, it was a warning sign of Wigan’s intent, and after muscling their way down field, centre Darrell Goulding crossed from short-range after good approach work from Smith.

And in the 56th minute, Finch pierced the line to pop a sweet pass up for Jack Hughes to stroll over for a try with his first touch of the ball.

The action remained one-sided, Salford offering little résistance as Harrison Hansen powered though to cross, Richards nailing all three conversions to make it 32-0 before a late exchange of tries by O’Loughlin and James.