St Helens 22 Wigan Warriors 12: Five things we learned

Five things we learned from Wigan's 22-12 defeat at St Helens on Super League's opening night.

By Phil Wilkinson
Friday, 1st February 2019, 10:13 am
Updated Friday, 1st February 2019, 11:18 am
There were fireworks on Super League's opening night
There were fireworks on Super League's opening night

1. Super League wanted fireworks on the opening night to launch their 'new beginnings' mantra, and they got it.

In temperatures which mirrored Wigan's league status (-2), the two derby rivals delivered a physically derby which was a better standard than it had any right to be for round one.

Yes, it was played out against the backdrop of the Warriors' points deduction - and the result has already wedged open a four-point gap - but it was a heartening start to the 2019 campaign, ahead of the televised Hull derby and Warrington-Leeds on Saturday.

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Zak Hardaker impressed on his debut

2. Wigan did well to battle back from 12-0 down to lock the scores at half-time but, as Adrian Lam pointed out, so much defending left them too gassed to chase the game.

There were flashes which suggested that when it all comes together, they will be both good to watch and difficult to handle, with angled runs and short-passes. Forwards Liam Farrell and Joe Greenwood have switched edges and the latter, in particular, was a handful.

While combinations and moves will improve over time, there were also fundamental areas to brush up on, too, including their short-kicking, the way they finished their sets - and some one-on-one misses they won't want to watch in review.

3. The big positives for Wigan were the performances of the two new players, Zak Hardaker and Joe Bullock.

Full-back Hardaker - back from a doping ban that wiped out his 2018 - did everything asked of him, and more. And ex-Barrow forward Bullock justified his selection with some metre-eating charges to suggest he could be the latest prop to make a successful switch from the Championship to Super League, following on from Alex Walmsley and Chris Hill. It has been a long time coming for the 25-year-old, who was released by Wigan as a youngster... when he was a rangy winger.

Elsewhere, Liam Marshall - handed a wing chance while Dom Manfredi recovers from a minor knee operation - and Ben Flower performed well.

4. Last night's game was the first under the new rules which were designed to cut wasted time - and it seemed to work.

Excluding half-time the match ran for 88 minutes, six seconds, which was almost 10 minutes less than the most recent Saints-Wigan meeting.

The shot-clock, and only one visit to the video referee, seemed to make an impact.

And with less 'dead time', it should allow Sky Sports more time for preview and analysis - well done to the broadcaster for getting Jon Wilkin, arguably the game's best pundit, on board.

5. Finally, a word on Saints, who were deserved winners.

Without the coaching overhaul that Wigan have been through, they looked that bit sharper and in-sync. NRL signings Lachlan Coote and Kevin Naiqama look like they will improve their side - and light up Super League - while Luke Thompson showed just why so many NRL clubs have recently tried, and failed, to prise him away.

The two derby rivals will meet twice more in the regular season - the next showdown being on Good Friday, April 19... when hopefully the weather will be warmer (and Wigan have had their two point deduction reinstated!).