Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Warriors Fall To Saints Loss

After an experimental Warriors squad suffered a narrow loss away to Championship side Leigh Centurions last Sunday, Wigan continued their pre-season schedule with a short trip to face fierce rivals St Helens at Langtree Park.

In the first meeting between the sides since the 2014 Grand Final which was soured by Ben Flower's dismissal and ruled him out of this game, both sides named strong squads with the new Super League season just on the horizon.

Despite being billed as a 'friendly', clashes between the sides usually quite fierce and this was apparent in the early exchanges as a melee broke out after a strong first tackle from the chasing Wigan pack.

St Helens attacked well and came close to an opening try inside three minutes when a well-worked move saw Mark Percival held up over the Wigan line before Wigan utilised their next possession to force the Saints into a goal-line dropout.

However, a mistake from the Warriors gave St Helens good field position which they used to good effect in the 10th minute when a high kick from Travis Burns caused chaos for Joe Burgess whose failure to collect gave the home side a scrum close to the Wigan line. St Helens utilised the scrum with James Roby finding Joe Greenwood who crossed for the first try of the afternoon followed by a successful conversion from Tommy Makinson for 6-0.

The ball changed hands in a flurry due to a number of knock-ons and penalties before Wigan tried to create a move down the right but a stray pass from Ryan Hampshire glided into the arms of Jordan Turner who in turn found wing partner Adam Swift who dashed over for the Saints second try. Tommy Makinson failed to convert from the touchline as the St Helens opened up a 10-0 lead after 21 minutes.

Wigan's attempts to reduce the deficit began to leave gaps in the line which nearly proved to be costly in the 27th minute when Makinson looked to have crossed for a try with his textbook one handed touchdown but had the effort denied due to being in touch in the process. However, it didn't take long for St Helens to extend their lead as a well-worked passing move allowed Swift to gain significant yards before a cross-field move resulted in an easy score for Atelea Vea which Makinson added to with a conversion for 16-0.

As the final seconds of the first half ticked down, Wigan fell further behind as a quick passing move allowed Tommy Makinson to find space and cross for a try which he then converted to give Wigan a mountain to climb in the second half with the score at 22-0.

Wigan need a huge turnaround in the second half to prevent a humiliating defeat and kicked off their comeback just six minutes into the second half as a kick from Matty Smith found the path of Josh Charnley who found support in Connor Farrell who in turn picked out John Bateman who crossed for the Warriors first try in front of a jubilant East Terrace. Matty Smith converted the effort and put Wigan on the board at 22-6.

The Warriors began to threaten the Saints defence far more than in the first half and reduced the deficit further just before the hour mark as a George Williams grubber kick forced a dropout which allowed Wigan to advance towards the try line. Connor Farrell looked to gain yards and despite being challenged by a trio of Saints defenders, powered over the line for a superb try. Matty Smith maintained his record with the boot to make it 22-12.

Wigan continued to battle back into the game but were caught out by a clever move from the Saints who looked to have sealed the victory when Joe Greenwood crossed for his second try of the game and with Tommy Makinson converting, St Helens led 28-12 with ten minutes remaining.

St Helens held on for the win but in pre-season the result is secondary despite the rivalry with the biggest positive from a Wigan perspective being a good run out for players ahead of what will be a tough Super League campaign.

Highlights from the game can be seen in the accompanying video from my 'Out and About' feature series.