PAT Richards had said in the week there was “nothing better” than playing St Helens under a baking sun and in front of a packed stadium. Yes there is, Pat. Beating them... like this.
In one of the most exciting derbies in years, the Warriors looked to be heading to a 24-22 defeat after throwing away a 12-point advantage.
But in a nail-biting finish, Liam Farrell pounced for a match-winning try to secure their first victory over St Helens on this ground since 2007.
The way the players leapt on Farrell to celebrate the try showed just what it meant to them. It sent Wigan’s fans into dreamland – and broke the hearts of Saints’ supporters and players.
The Warriors went 10-0 down in the opening half-an-hour from tries by Michael Shenton and Jamie Foster, but hit back before the break with a Josh Charnley touchdown to close the interval gap to 10-4.
And they roared ahead with three tries to take a 22-10 lead – only to see the visitors draw level with a quickfire double, and go ahead through the boot of Foster... until Farrell’s late, Great Escape.
In a superb team display, Pat Richards’ two tries were just reward for a fine display, which suggested he is edging back to his best form following a long time out with an Achilles injury.
Elsewhere, Ryan Hoffman was colossal, the Tomkins brothers were sensational and young winger Charnley further enhanced his burgeoning credentials.
Wigan went into yesterday afternoon’s match as the bookmakers’ favourites, but without history on their side.
St Helens had won five of the previous six derbies on this ground, while the Warriors were keen to restore some pride to their home form after losing three of their last four matches at the DW Stadium.
Michael Maguire kept faith with the same side that beat Hull KR 28-16 a week earlier, a victory which ended a three-game streak without a win.
That meant no place for Darrell Goulding, Amos Roberts, Stefan Marsh or Chris Tuson.
St Helens – despite their well-documented injury woes – were still able to name a starting line-up boasting 10 Test internationals, as well as young stars Jonny Lomax and Foster.
The game kicked-off at a frantic pace and rarely relented during 80 frantic, dramatic minutes.
A wayward offload from James Graham gave Wigan the first clear attacking chance, which ended when Joel Tomkins, again playing in the centres, was hauled into touch.
Saints countered when James Roby cut through the defence, but Paul Wellens couldn’t gather in his pass and then – at the other end of the pitch - Pat Richards found no way through in the left corner.
The visitors eventually pierced the Warriors’ swarming defence when Gary Wheeler stormed onto Sia Soliola’s offload and found centre Michael Shenton in support. Foster’s conversion attempt was wide.
Wigan punched themselves down field with little trouble, but rarely conjured any plays that really tested Saints’ resolve. Joel Tomkins offered their biggest threat on the right flank, but Saints coped with predictable last-play options and poor kicking game.
Saints doubled their advantage in the 26th minute with Roby again proving the architect. His menacing run from dummy-half gave his side the ascendancy and from the next tackle, Foster crossed unopposed after Charnley’s failed intercept attempt. Foster’s conversion was on target, putting Warriors 10-0 down.
The first penalty of the game was conceded in the 32nd minute when George Carmont played the ball after being grounded, unaware referee Richard Silerwood had waved play on.
Two more penalties followed in quick succession – one for each side – before Wigan finally got on the scoreboard.
Sam Tomkins switched the attack with a weaving lateral run across Saints’ line and – after passes from Liam Farrell and Joel Tomkins – Charnley dived over in the corner, from a pass that even the one-eyed fans would concede looked forward. Richards missed with the sideline conversion, but minutes into the restart narrowed the gap even further with his side’s second try.
A brilliant long pass by Sean O’Loughlin – who by his own impeccable standards, had until then had a quiet game – found Hoffman, and two quick passes saw Richards squeeze over in the corner. The Man of Steel nailed the conversion attempt to bring the scores level.
That cranked up the volume levels inside the DW Stadium as, for a spell, they turned the screw on their fierce rivals.
Charnley’s thunderous challenge on Foster typified their determination, and he was responsible for putting them ahead for the first time with a try from Joel Tomkins’ inside pass.
Richards’ successful conversion gave them a six-point cushion.
Saints’ eroding composure continued to gift the home side opportunities, and in the 56th minute Hoffman and Carmont combined superbly on the left edge to send Richards over for his second try, his successful goal taking the scoreline to 22-10 .
It didn’t stay that way for long, however, as Foster raced past Charnley for a try he converted to reduce the deficit to six points.
And Tommy Makinson profited from a Tony Puletua pass, Foster’s goal drawing the scores level and giving the game a grandstand finish.
Foster booted Saints ahead with a 74th minute penalty.
A heart-stopping finish saw Richards break down the left and kick on for himself and with the clock ticking down, Wigan pressed for a winning score – and found it when Farrell squeezed through to secure a memorable, incredible victory.