Dom Manfredi saved Wigan’s blushes with a last-gasp try and preserved his side’s 100 per cent start to the season against Salford.
The thrilling end to an entertaining game capped a typically solid performance for the winger, who’d bounced off defenders and stood firm in defence all night.
But it was the man on the opposite wing, Oliver Gildart, who grabbed the limelight early on.
The teenager was facing his second tough test in the space of a week, with his second game on the wing being opposite Salford’s Justin Carney.
But just five days after marking Brisbane’s Greg Eden, Gildart proved more than capable of keeping Salford’s ‘Tank on the Flank’ under wraps.
Gildart’s response to being dumped into the ground by his opposite number early on was to skip past him from an Anthony Gelling pass to touch down after eight minutes - cancelling-out Gareth O’Brien’s early penalty goal for interference.
And he went on to finish-off an early try of the season contender. Initially, Taulima Tautai’s pass inside his own half looked dicey, but Gelling was on hand to break through, hand back to Tautai, and the ball went across to Gildart via Matty Smith’s smooth pass. This set up another one-on-one with Carney which Gildart again made look easy.
But the most impressive part of Gildart’s display was his his defence, stopping two first half tries by being on hand to intercept a pass as the Red Devils bore down on the line, and clear-up a probing kick in similar circumstances.
Despite the low 10-2 scoreline at the break, the contest was entertaining, with plenty of talking points including a nice try-saving tackle from Lewis Tierney. Josh Griffin’s weaving run looked to have undone the young full-back, only for Tierney to keep his cool and preserve Wigan’s eight-point cushion going into the break.
Within four minutes of the restart it looked as if Wigan would get on a roll as Gelling touched-down for his first try of the season.
But after a period punctuated by the shrill of referee George Stokes’ whistle, former Warrior Michael Dobson’s well-weighted kick was pounced on by Junior Sau for a try which closed the gap to 10 points. O’Brien’s conversion attempt drifted wide, but the Red Devils kept applying the pressure and it eventually paid off when Griffin forced his way over.
And the bombardment continued, with it looking more of a question how long Wigan’s defence could hold on for. The answer came seven minutes from full-time, as Ben Murdoch-Masila crashed over and O’Brien’s extras tied the scores.
But just as Salford looked to be adding the Warriors to their early season scalps of St Helens and Widnes, Manfredi saved the day as he crashed into the corner under a pile of defenders.
Tautai looked to have fumbled the ball in the play-the-ball leading up to the score, and had the contest been televised Manfredi’s proximity to the touchline would surely have resulted in a consultation with the video referee.
Salford did get the ball back as the clock ticked down - but time was against them, and Wigan held on.
Tries: Gildart 2, Gelling
Goals: Smith 2
Tries: Sau, Griffin, Murdoch-Masila
Goals: O’Brien 2
Wigan: Lewis Tierney; Oliver Gildart, Anthony Gelling, Dan Sarginson, Dom Manfredi; George Williams, Matty Smith; Ryan Sutton, Sam Powell, Ben Flower, John Bateman, Liam Farrell; Sean O’Loughlin
Subs: Tony Clubb, Lee Mossop, Taulima Tautai, Greg Burke
Salford: Gareth O’Brien; Justin Carney, Junior Sau, Josh Griffin, Greg Johnson; Robert Lui, Michael Dobson; Craig Kopczak, Tommy Lee, George Griffin, Ben Murdoch-Masila, Josh Jones; Mark Flanagan
Subs: Logan Tomkins, Olsi Krasniqi, Jordan Walne, Niall Evalds