St Helens 22 Wigan 12

Champions Wigan will finish the opening round of their title defence bottom of the table after Adrian Lam's first game in charge ended in defeat.

Thursday, 31st January 2019, 8:44 pm
Updated Friday, 1st February 2019, 9:18 am
St Helens' Regan Grace celebrates his try

This derby, played out against the backdrop of the Warriors' two-points deduction for a salary cap breach, gave the revitalised Super League the blockbuster it craved.

Yes there were errors, but the quality was higher than it had any right to be given the timing - and the sub-zero temperature.

And in the end, despite Wigan battling back to lock the scores 12-12 at half-time, Saints ran out deserved winners courtesy of second-half tries from Regan Grace and James Roby.

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Lam said their new-style attack would be a work in progress, and that proved the case. They didn't always find their rhythm but when they did, there were some neat passages, angling the ball back into mid-field well and using the strike capabilities of Joe Greenwood and Liam Marshall.

Their short-kicking game was off-point, too, but there was enough to offer encouragement for when it all comes together.

And those seeking positives can also look to the performance of Zak Hardaker, who was safe and did everything asked of him - he was arguably Wigan's best player - while fellow debutant Joe Bullock justified his selection with some metre-eating carries.

The scoreline testifies there was little between the sides but St Helens, under Justin Holbrook, looked that bit more slick, that bit more in-sync, that bit more clinical.

Saints' three overseas signings - Lachlan Coote, Kevin Naiqama and Joseph Paulo - all featured.

And centre Naiqama wasted little time in making his mark, slipping past Dan Sarginson to cross for a second-minute try after Romain Navarrete had the unwanted distinction of spilling the first ball of the 2019 campaign. Mark Percival's conversion swung in to give them a dream, 6-0 start.

Saints had errors of their own, as the powerful Ben Flower went close, but the hosts enjoyed the better territory and in the 15th minute Dom Peyroux cut through to feed ex-Orrell St James junior Jonny Lomax. Percival's conversion opened up a 12-0 lead, sparking a sense of nervousness among some of the travelling supporters.

Saints looked to twist the knife, the excellent Luke Thompson and Tommy Makinson - both ex-Wigan schoolboys - going close, before the visitors launched a comeback.

Sarginson was the first to cross the line, only to see a try correctly ruled out for a forward pass from Greenwood. Still, it was encouraging from a Wigan perspective as they amped up the pressure Ben Flower punched his way through for a try Hardaker converted.

Wigan lost Tony Clubb to concussion moments after he had been brought on.

The game ebbed and flowed, back and forth, with no score but plenty to admire - Sarginson's left-foot step, a powerful carry from Bullock - before Marshall plucked out Coote's pass and blazed away. Hardaker's conversion locked the score and offer hope at the break.

But Wigan seemed a little jaded early in the second-half, and in the 50th minute jet-heeled winger Grace dived over in the corner for a try given the green-light by the video official. Percival missed the conversion but at 16-12, it meant Lam's side were once again chasing the game.

And chase they tried to do, but often it was their own errors which made it hard for them to get back into the grind of the contest.

When they settled and got their break, Sean O'Loughlin's delicate grubber saw Gabe 'The Hammer' Hamlin go close and - minutes later - Marshall's pinballing run set up another good position, which couldn't be capitalised on.

And Saints made their fierce rivals pay, working their way down field for evergreen Roby to cross from short-range and settle the opening game of 2019.