MX23RW : Monday, February 18 14:16:10

Result: Saints start rugby league's new era with win over champions Wigan

Warriors were docked points on Wednesday and start with a loss

Wigan’s nightmare 24 hours was completed as they went down 22-12 to arch rivals St Helens in the opening match of the 2019 Betfred Super League season.

The reigning champions battled bravely to win back the two points they were deducted for a salary cap breach on Wednesday, but in the end had to bow to a Saints team that just about had the edge.

However, there was plenty to encourage both sets of fans from an entertaining game that highlighted the benefits of the rule changes designed to quicken up play and avoid time wasting.

Zak Hardaker made his Wigan debut
Zak Hardaker made his Wigan debut (Martin Rickett/PA)

If Saints fans were concerned over the departure of Man of Steel Ben Barba, his replacement Lachlan Coote quickly allayed their fears with an accomplished display on debut, while fellow newcomers Kevin Naiqama and Joseph Paulo also caught the eye.

England prop Alex Walmsley showed some nice touches on his return from a 10-month injury lay-off and Theo Fages justified his selection ahead of 2018 Super League Dream Team scrum-half Danny Richardson.

New Wigan coach Adrian Lam will be equally delighted with his club’s new additions, with Zak Hardaker settling in well on his first Super League appearance for 16 months and former Barrow prop Joe Bullock showing he has the qualities to perform at the top level.

It took the strong-running Naiqama under two minutes to show his class as he went between Hardaker and Dan Sarginson for the first try of the season.

St Helens’ Dominique Peyroux and James Roby hold up Wigan
St Helens’ Dominique Peyroux and James Roby hold up Wigan (Martin Rickett/PA)

Saints doubled their lead when second-rower Dom Peyroux cut a swathe through the heart of the Wigan defence and stand-off Jonny Lomax was in support to grab their second try.

Mark Percival converted both to make it 12-0 but the champions served notice that this would be no one-sided contest as former Saints favourite Joe Greenwood worked Sarginson over only for the try to be disallowed for a forward pass.

There was no stopping prop Ben Flower, however, as he charged onto Sam Powell’s pass close the line and Hardaker converted the try to halve the deficit.

Saints were pressing again five minutes before half-time when Wigan winger Liam Marshall intercepted Coote’s pass meant for Naiqama and showed a clean pair of heels to all pursuers on an 85-metre sprint for his side’s second try.

Hardaker’s second goal levelled the scores and the prospect of golden point beckoned until a spectacular finish from Welsh international winger Regan Grace nine minutes into the second half restored Saints’ advantage.

It was a narrow lead which Saints defended with enthusiasm and ferocity as Wigan, with Marshall particularly dangerous, pressed for the winner.

It took a trademark piece of opportunism from Saints skipper James Roby to finally see off the champions as he burrowed his way over for the match-winning try seven minutes from the end.

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