Wigan and St Helens served up another classic derby as the bitter rivals battled to a thrilling draw at Millennium Magic.
The reigning Super League champions looked to have secured victory when George Carmont‘s try put them 16-0 in front but Saints launched a trademark comeback with three tries in less than 15 minutes to complete a remarkable turnaround.
The match started in a typically enthralling fashion with both sides showing plenty of speed and commitment in defence.
Saints exerted the majority of early pressure however they failed to seriously trouble the Wigan defence and paid the price when the Warriors opened the scoring in the tenth minute.
Sean O’Loughlin released Carmont and the ball found its way to Josh Charnley on the left wing. The youngster popped the ball back inside to Ryan Hoffman who crashed over for a debut try with veteran half back Paul Deacon landing a tricky touchline conversion.
Wigan went close to extending their lead on 16 minutes but a last ditch tackle by Paul Wellens prevented Charnley from grounding the ball.
The introduction of Tony Puletua sparked Saints into life and James Roby thought he had levelled the scores on 26 minutes. However, video referee Ian Smith ruled that the England hooker lost control under pressure from Sam Tomkins.
St Helens were made to pay for the lack of cutting edge once more as Wigan extended their lead in the 29th minute. Francis Meli and Wellens were bewildered by a towering kick by Tomkins and Harrison Hansen swooped on the bouncing ball to score with Tomkins adding the extras.
Saints were regularly troubled by the high ball and lacked their usual fluency in attack but they looked to have got off the mark on 33 minutes when Michael Shenton touched down. However, the video referee again ruled that the ball had been a knocked-on during the build up.
Wigan’s defensive effort in the first half was outstanding with the impressive Roby and Ade Gardner both forcing their way over the try line only to be held up, ensuring that the Warriors took a deserved 12-0 lead into the break.
Saints continued to struggle at the start of the second period and Wigan moved further in front on 50 minutes. Carmont rounding off a fabulous back line move to score out wide. Tomkins’ conversion attempt was off target but with Leon Pryce missing through injury and Kyle Eastmond struggling to impose himself on the game, Saints did not appear to have an answer to the dominant Warriors.
However, as they have done so often in the past, St Helens refused to accept defeat. A try by Jon Wilkin, crafted by Roby and converted by Jamie Foster, on 63 minutes reduced the deficit and appeared to unnerve Wigan.
Some ill discipline led to a succession of penalties, helping move Saints into opposition territory and creating an opportunity for Puletua on 70 minutes. The giant forward shook off three defenders before twisting his way over the line to score with Foster’s conversion setting up a grandstand finish.
The comeback was completed in the 76th minute when St Helens launched the ball wide to Jonny Lomax whose pass allowed Meli to touch down in the corner. Foster’s conversion attempt drifted wide, leaving the scores tied at 16-16 with a little over three minutes left on the clock.
Both sides went in search of a drop goal with Tomkins and Eastmond both missing from distance before the full time hooter signalled the end of a thrilling encounter.
St Helens: Wellens, Gardner, Shenton, Lomax, Meli, Wheeler, Eastmond, Graham, Roby, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Soliola, Wilkin, Moore. Subs: Puletua, Clough, Dixon, Foster.
Tries: Wilkin 63, Puletua 71, Meli 76.
Goals: Foster 63, 71.
Wigan: Tomkins, Goulding, Gleeson, Carmont, Charnley, Deacon, Leuluai, Coley, McIllorum, Lima, Hoffman, Tomkins, O’Loughlin. Subs: Hansen, Prescott, Mossop, Farrell.
Tries: Hoffman 10, Hansen 30, Carmont 50.
Goals: Deacon 10, Tomkins 30.
Referee: Richard Silverwood