It is rare, if not unheard of, that a Wigan-St Helens derby passes without a controversial moment or two. Throughout the years, these sides have served up contention as often as they have classic encounters and this time both boxes were emphatically ticked.
That the Saints, playing for the first time since Keiron Cunningham’s sacking on Monday, more than held their own, despite playing with 12 men for 67 minutes, underlines how captivating and unpredictable a contest it was. Traditionally the scene-setter for the rest of the Easter weekend, Wigan and St Helens once again did not disappoint.
Yet there was no arguing about the game’s big talking point. The contest was still in its embryonic moments when the referee, Ben Thaler, sent off Kyle Amor for a high tackle on Liam Marshall and the fact Shaun Wane, a dyed-in-the-wool Wiganer, could not commit to it being the right decision underlines how Thaler may have got it wrong.
Wane’s counterpart, the St Helens interim coach, Jamahl Lolesi, was far more convictive with his verdict. “It just wasn’t a red, it’s as simple as that,” he said. “Take the emotion and the occasion out of it and use the video referee: it was poor. I didn’t think the officiating was great and I thought it affected what was going to be a great game. I feel sorry for the fans that paid to come and watch a 13 v 13 derby, they got short-changed as well as us.”
Yet without Amor for most of the game, St Helens held their own, barring a flurry of three Wigan tries in seven second-half minutes that took the game away from the visitors. For the Warriors, this was a first win in five – although an eighth in a row against the Saints on Good Friday.
“It’s a tough one,” Wane said of the Amor red card. “I’d rather not comment on it. I’m not bothered how we play in a game like that – we just want to get two points. Credit to St Helens, they had a dig at us.”
Wigan had opened up an 8-2 lead by half-time as they began to turn the screw on Saints, who would rue the amount of pressure they had to contend with in the first 40 minutes as the game wore on.
Yet an outstanding finish from the young winger Regan Grace – on his debut having switched to rugby league only two years ago from Ospreys – was at least a bright spot for the visitors. Marshall responded shortly after with a wonderful try of his own, his second of the game, before Liam Farrell killed any hopes of a St Helens comeback.
Perhaps it was fitting they had the final say when Tommy Makinson crossed but their race had long since been run – and the dismissal of Amor keenly felt.
Wigan Escaré; Davies, Gelling, Burgess, Marshall; Williams, Leuluai; Nuuausala, Powell, Flower, Tomkins, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Interchange Tautai, Sutton, Isa, McIlorum.
Tries Burgess 2, Marshall 2, Farrell. Goals Escaré 4. Drop goal Escaré.
St Helens Makinson; Grace, Morgan, Percival, Swift; Fages, Smith; Amor, Lee, Douglas, Taia, Wilkin, McCarthy-Scarsbrook. Interchange Walmsley, Thompson, Richards, Knowles.
Tries Knowles, Grace, Makinson. Goals Percival 3. Sent off Amor, 13.
Referee B Thaler. Attendance 23,390.