Wigan Warriors began their title defence with a 26-16 win away at Salford Red Devils. It was a real cold afternoon at the AJ Bell Stadium, and over 2,000 Wigan fans made the short trip down to support the 2016 Super League Champions.
DOMINANT FIRST HALF
Salford started the game off well, driving towards the Wigan line on their first set. However, as was the story of the first half, the Warriors defence was solid and didn’t look like being breached. Wigan would get their first chance with the ball and made it count. It was a smart kick through from captain, Sean O’Loughlin, which was reached by the returning Joe Burgess who cleverly knocked it back towards the oncoming Oliver Gildart who would score the game’s first try and Wigan’s first of the 2017 season. The conversion out wide was missed by debutant Morgan Escaré and Wigan took an early 4-0 lead.
Salford would continue to push and had multiple, repeat sets on the Wigan line. However, yet again Wigan’s defence stood strong and kept out the Red Devils. After sustaining all that pressure for a good 10 minutes, you sensed Wigan would go up the other end and score. They did just that. On his return to Wigan, winger Joe Burgess would get on the end of a superb grubber from George Williams to extend Wigan’s lead. Escaré would kick the conversion and Wigan led 10-0.
Wigan would go on to dominate the rest of the first half and score a further three tries through Gildart, Williams and Joel Tomkins. Salford struggled to cope with the combination of Williams and Leuluai, who started off the season well. With the quick feet of Williams and a great first half kicking game from Leuluai, Ian Watson’s men were just blown away. Wigan went into halftime 26-0 up and looked to have the game wrapped up with 40 minutes to go.
SALFORD STEP IT UP
The second half was a complete different game to the first. In the stands at halftime, Wigan fans we’re talking about Wane taking the foot off the pedal with next week’s World Club Challenge game in the back of his mind. Wigan did just that, and seemed to cruise through the half without pushing Salford. However, while they would have been confident of seeing the game out at 26-0 up, you can never be certain. Wigan had chances early in the half, but couldn’t quite get over the line. One thing that let Wigan down during the whole 80 minutes was their discipline, as they gave away easy yards with soft penalties.
Salford would get their first try of the season in the 48th minute, when Kriss Brining would scoot over from dummy-half, following some sloppy Wigan defence. O’Brien quickly kicked the conversion and Salford now trailed 26-6. For the following 20 minutes the game would go quiet, with neither side creating much or causing their fans to take notice. Wigan was cruising through the half and Salford seemed to be trying too hard at times, with there being a few errors and plenty of soft penalties being given away for both sides.
However, in the last 10 minutes, Salford would score two late tries through Junior Sa’u and Michael Dobson to try and put some pressure on Wigan. However, it was too little too late, and even though Wigan lost the second half 16-0, you still felt that they were in control of the game and knew they could step it up, if it became too tight on the scoreboard. Wigan struggled late on with cramp, and that didn’t help with their defensive line.
BLOWING OFF THE COBWEBS
It’s always tough in the first game of the season, even more so when you have to play away from home. Wigan had Burgess, Leuluai and Escaré making their debuts for Wigan, the second debuts for Burgess and Leuluai. While also, Tony Clubb and Joel Tomkins were involved for the first time in a good while, after both suffered season ending injuries in 2016. So, it was going to be tough for those players, and it being the first game of the season, it was a game to blow off some cobwebs.
Wigan blew Salford away in the first half and just went through the motions in the second as the game caught up to them, but also having the World Club Challenge game on their mind. Overall, it was a good, solid opening performance from the Warriors, one that the fans can be happy about, as in the first game all that matters is the win and starting your season off the right way.
Salford should be pleased with their response in that second half, and as coach Ian Watson said, that first half was way off the real Salford, and they can be much better than that. You can never judge a team in the first few weeks of the season, as they are just getting used to playing competitively again. It takes a while for new players and combinations to start clicking, and once they do, that’s when you can start to judge a side.
ONE EYE ON THE WORLD CLUB CHALLENGE
It’s no secret that Wigan’s next game is in the World Club Challenge against the NRL Premier Champions, Cronulla Sharks. So, with that in mind, you could not blame Shaun Wane and Wigan for slowing down a bit in that second half and trying to conserve their energy and not get any injuries. A few Wigan fans in the away end got a bit upset with the lack of quality in the second half, but they need to realise that next week is a huge game for Wigan and being 26-0 up at halftime, meant they could already start to think about Cronulla.
“I’ll speak to the players about the history of the club this week. It means a lot to our town. It’s our chance to create some history. It’s now 30 years since be beat Manly and people still stop me in the street to talk about that game. I’ll get some former players in to speak to the players this week. It’s huge for us.”
(Shaun Wane following today’s win at Salford)
It’s clear to see how much this game means to Wigan and their head coach, Shaun Wane. He would want nothing more but to add this to their trophy cabinet. It’s never easy for the Super League sides in these matches, there’s only been three wins in the last decade and Wigan haven’t won this match since 1994. They have a huge chance this year, with it being the Sharks first ever time as NRL Premier Champions, so there will be a lot of pressure on their shoulders from Australia.
Salford Red Devils head coach, Ian Watson:
“The first half wasn’t us, but the response was good in the second half. The frustrating bit was losing Junior and Lui for head checks, we could have scored when Junior was taken out.
“We need to be better at controlling the game, it’s something we’ve spoken about in the week.
“Thursday will be a good opportunity to see what lessons we’ve learnt. A few minor knocks, but nothing serious.
Wigan Warriors head coach, Shaun Wane:
“There’s some good things, some bad, we’re just happy with the win. A few players struggled with cramp towards the end but we’ll be fine.
“We’ll need to be a lot better next week and we will be. We just needed to blow the cobwebs off. It was hard to concentrate on this game knowing about next week’s big game.
“We had to give Salford the respect they deserve and I think overall we did that. Clubby was great today, I was so pleased to see him out there. Morgan was good too, he’s rugby smart and will only improve.
IN THE SHEDS
It was a real battle out there today and while nothing was put on report by referee Ben Thaler, the game did have a few incidents that the RFL may look at this week.
Salford lost Robert Lui and Junior Sa’u during the first half due to both players having to leave the field for a head test. A few Wigan players we’re limping towards the end of the game, but Wane confirmed after the game, that it was just cramp.
Salford Red Devils – (0) 16
Tries: Brining, Sa’u, Dobson
Goals: O’Brien 2/3
Wigan Warriors – (26) 26
Tries: Gildart 2, Burgess, Williams, Tomkins
Goals: Escaré 3/5
Salford Red Devils: O’Brien; Johnson, Evalds, Sa’u, Carney; Lui, Dobson; Kopczak, Wood, Mossop, Jones Griffin, Flanagan.
Interchanges: Brining, Krasniqi, Tasi, Walne
Wigan Warriors: Escaré, Tierney, Gelling, Gildart, Burgess; Williams, Leuluai; Nuuausala, Powell, Flower, Isa, Farrell, O’Loughlin.
Interchanges: J.Tomkins, Clubb, Tautai, Sutton
Referee: Ben Thaler
Venue: AJ Bell Stadium
Date/Time: Saturday 11th February – 13:15pm GMT
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