Super League returns as Wigan suffer defeat to St Helens in season opener
Super League returned to our screens on Thursday night, as Wigan Warriors took on rivals St Helens. Kris Gourlay reviews the match, and looks at the season ahead.
Rugby League’s Super League returned, as last years grand final winners, Wigan Warriors, who start the season on -2 points for breach of Super League’s salary cap back in 2017, suffered another setback as they were edged out 22-12 by fierce rivals, St Helens on Thursday night.
After losing coach of the year, Shaun Wane, to the Scotland Rugby Union setup, all eyes were on new coach, and former player, Adrian Lam. The Warriors also lost key players John Bateman, Sam Tomkins and Ryan Sutton since last years grand final victory over Warrington Wolves.
Wigan start the new season already 2 points behind the rest of the league table as an investigation into the amount being paid by the club to players and employees was deemed to have exceeded the set limit by the Rugby Football League. The loss on Thursday night means that they now sit firmly at the bottom of the table on -2 with a game already played, the worst possible league start by the Warriors.
Luckily the ban was given at the start of the season and Wigan can now build on their positive performance against the Saints and prepare for an incredibly tough season. The Saints started the game much the better side, with their big names finding gaps to exploit in the Wigan Defence, whilst holding their own impressively, giving the Warriors no field position at all in the first 10 minutes.
Newcomer Kevin Naiqama got Saints on the scoreboard in under 5 minutes, and their lead was soon doubled to 12-0 when Super League veteran, Johnny Lomax exploited a big gap in the Wigan defence to run straight under the sticks, a worrying start for Wigan boss Adrian Lam.
The Warriors responded positively to going 12-0 down and were soon on the scoreboard themselves when big prop forward Ben Flower took on 3 players on his way to get the ball over the line directly under the sticks. Fullback Zak Hardaker, making his first League start in 16 months, due to a lengthy drugs ban obtained whilst playing for his previous club, Castleford Tigers, converted the kick to make it 12-6 close to the half time siren.
That wasn’t enough for Wigan however, a loose pass by Saints attacking the Wigan try line was gathered by young winger Liam Marshall, who ran the length of the pitch in spectacular fashion to make it two tries each, Hardaker again converting to make it 12-12 at half time.
9 minutes into the second half, ever-bright Saints winger, Regan Grace showed composure on the ball to dance his way over the Wigan line to make it 16-12 to the home side, with one converted try from Wigan enough to take the lead for the first time in the match.
Unfortunately, this only spurred the home side on more. 10 minutes before full-time, Saints struck the deciding blow as skipper James Roby showed experience and class to finish off a nice move to put Saints 22-12 up after Mark Percival converted.
Although the score line favoured the Saints, Adrian Lam can take plenty positives from his teams first performance of the season. Fullback Zak Hardaker seemed to cope well in his first game for nearly two years and will only get better with the aid of training and game time. Teenager Joe Bullock showed signs of maturity on the big stage when he was introduced to the game and Ben Flower showed signs of how valuable an asset he is to this Wigan team with an impressive try.
Elsewhere in Super League, newly promoted Hull KR take on Hull FC in the local derby on Friday night, with Hull FC expected to be close to the top of the table come the end of the year, following an impressive couple of years in Super League.
Castleford host French team Catalan Dragons, with Castleford also enduring an above-average season last year, throwing their names in the mix for the league leaders shield this season. Catalan Dragons, however, have former Wigan players Michael Mcilroum and Sam Tomkins at their disposal this season so could prove to be a force this season.
The weekends finest looking contest comes at the evening kick-off between last seasons grand finalists Warrington and one of Super League’s most successful teams, Leeds Rhinos. Although Leeds have endured a tough couple of years battling relegation, there is no doubt they, on their day, can oust any team in the League.