Kevin Naiqama scored the Super League season’s first try within 93 seconds on his St Helens debutBetfred Super LeagueSt Helens (12) 22Tries: Naiqama, Lomax, Grace, Roby Goals: Percival 3Wigan (12) 12Tries: Flower, Marshall Goals: Hardaker 2Wigan Warriors’ defence of their Super League title began with a 22-12 loss at rivals St Helens in a pulsating…
|Betfred Super League|
|St Helens (12) 22|
|Tries:Naiqama, Lomax, Grace, RobyGoals:Percival 3|
|Wigan (12) 12|
|Tries:Flower, MarshallGoals:Hardaker 2|
Wigan Warriors’ defence of their Super League title began with a 22-12 loss at rivals St Helens in a pulsating derby.
Saints scored twice in a blistering start through Kevin Naiqama’s try after 93 seconds and Jonny Lomax’s effort.
Wigan hit back to level at 12-12 at the break through Ben Flower and Liam Marshall’s length-of-the-field interception score.
But Regan Grace dived over in the corner to put Saints back in front before James Roby crossed late on.
St Helens’ victory means last season’s League Leaders’ Shield winners are already four points clear of Wigan after the Warriors werededucted two points, starting the season on -2, following a salary cap breach in 2017.
The match was also the first to be played in Super League following the winter rule changes designed to speed up the game and make it more exciting.
Shot-clocks were used to reduce the time taken setting up scrums and taking drop-outs, while the two sides were limited to eight interchanges rather than the previous 10 in an attempt to increase the fatigue factor.
A half of two halves
Both sides included new faces for the start the 2019 campaign, with Saints’ three imports from the NRL – Naiqama, Lachlan Coote and Joseph Paulo – all involved. Former Castleford and Leeds full-back Zak Hardaker made his Wigan debut on his return from a 14-month drugs ban.
And Fijian Naiqama took little time to make an impression by powering past the tackle of Dan Sarginson on Saints’ first set to score after Romain Navarrette had knocked-on on Wigan’s first possession.
Lomax then capitalised on Dom Peyroux’s break to slide over next to the posts, with Mark Percival slotting over a simple second conversion of the game to give Saints a 12-0 lead only 15 minutes in.
Wigan, who had head coach Adrian Lam in charge for the first time following Shaun Wane’s departure at the end of last season, began the fight-back when Flower barged over from close range.
And they were level when Marshall picked off Coote’s pass 10m from his own line to race clear.
Grace magic gives Saints edge
St Helens, who beat Wigan twice in the regular season last term before losing to them in the Super 8s, stepped up the pace after half-time and were ferocious in both defence and attack as they pinned Warriors deep inside their own half.
However, it needed a piece of magic from Grace to finally break through a resolute Wigan rearguard.
Saints span the ball to the 22-year-old wide on the left and the winger somehow got the ball down as he dived for the corner while two Wigan tacklers tried to push him out of play.
Wigan tried to hit back for a second time but they were made to pay when ill-discipline handed Saints field possession and Roby burrowed over from close range to seal victory.
‘It looked like we’d run out of fuel’ – post-match reaction
St Helens head coach Justin Holbrook told BBC Radio 5 live sports extra:“I’m really happy with the win tonight in a really tough game. I thought we played really well to get to 12-0 and were unlucky not to go further in front.
“As good a side as Wigan are, I thought it flattered them to be 12-12 at half-time but they don’t go away, and then it was a really tough second half.
“We had to defend well, and we did, and to come away with a win was the pleasing thing.”
Wigan head coach Adrian Lam told BBC Radio Manchester:“We had a poor start and showed a lot of character to get back into the game, and then when I thought it was in us to get a result near the end of the match, it looked like we’d run out of fuel.
“I felt we made a lot of dumb decisions during the match but I think that will come with time.
“Today’s game didn’t define our season – and it was never going to whether we won or lost.”
St Helens:Coote; Makinson, Naiqama, Percival, Grace; Lomax, Fages; Walmsley, Roby, Thompson, Taia, Peyroux, Knowles.
Interchanges:Paulo, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Amor, Lees.
Wigan:Hardaker; Davies, Sarginson, Gildart, Marshall; Williams, Leuluai; Flower, Powell, Navarrete, Greenwood, Farrell, O’Loughlin
Interchanges:Isa, Hamlin, Clubb, Bullock.