Reigning champions St Helens took full advantage of Wigan’s sidetracking by the Challenge Cup to gain a 42-0 derby victory that leapfrogs them into top spot in the Betfred Super League.
Warriors coach Adrian Lam opted to field something of a makeshift team with one eye firmly on Saturday’s Cup semi-final against Leeds and, although the youngsters battled bravely, there was never any doubt about the outcome.
With only the Grand Final to aim at, St Helens coach Kristian Woolf fielded his strongest team and they set off at a point a minute to rack up an 18-0 lead which effectively ended the game as a contest.
Rarely can a Wigan-Saints derby have been so low key. The Warriors were hoping to play a first game since the resumption at the DW Stadium in front of 1,000 fans but instead were forced to go behind closed doors at the AJ Bell Stadium in Salford.
Full-back Umyla Hanley, the 18-year-old son of all-time great Ellery, was one of six youngsters handed their debut by Lam, who made 20-year-old Harry Smith his captain for the night.
St Helens handed a debut to hooker Lewis Dodd and brought in 19-year-old centre Josh Simm in the absence of England international Mark Percival but it was veteran captain James Roby who proved to be the outstanding player.
England prop Alex Walmsley gave his side the perfect start when he took Lachlan Coote’s pass to crash over for his ninth try of the season and Coote kicked the first of his seven goals.
Wigan’s impossible task was made even tougher on 13 minutes when winger Sam Halsall, one of the new faces, was sin-binned for a late tackle on Coote after he had kicked ahead.
Saints took advantage of the extra man within a minute as stand-off Jonny Lomax fired out a cut-out pass for Jack Welsby to go over at the right corner for the first of his two tries.
A handling error near his own line by Hanley then gifted the champions another ideal attacking platform and they punished their 12-man opponents by working Regan Grace over at the other corner for his first try.
Trailing 18-0, Wigan’s worries increased when loose forward Jack Wells limped off midway through the first half but the youngsters, perhaps taking a lead from their Warrington counterparts in the opening game, demonstrated great resolve to keep their line intact for the rest of the half.
However, the efforts began to take their toll in the second half as Saints maintained their intensity.
Substitute prop Kyle Amor lost the ball going for the line but showed some nice hands shortly afterwards to get loose forward Morgan Knowles through a gap for a try.
The Wigan defence then opened up invitingly for second rower James Bentley to score his side’s fifth try and, after soaking up pressure on their own line, Saints broke upfield where Coote and Kevin Naiqama combined to get Welsby over for his second try.
Saints were reduced to 12 men on 69 minutes when Lomax was showed a yellow card for a dangerous tackle but still managed to add a seventh try, with Grace sprinting away for his second.