John Yates’ verdict on Saints derby performance

St Helens' Sia Soliola is tackled by Wigan Warriors' Liam Farrell (left) and Sean O'Loughlin during James Roby's Testimonial match at Langtree Park
St Helens' Sia Soliola is tackled by Wigan Warriors' Liam Farrell (left) and Sean O'Loughlin during James Roby's Testimonial match at Langtree Park

Wigan claimed the first local bragging rights of the season -with the game ending 28-16 - but in reality both sides were winners on the night.

James Roby’s testimonial match at Langtree Park proved a tailor-made 80-minute hit out ahead of Super League X1X and will have been extremely beneficial to both clubs for a host of reasons.

It was intense and highly competitive - despite being littered with far too many penalties and the eventual sin-binning of Saints’ Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook late in the first half for persistent interference.

But at the same time the no-holds-barred encounter went a long way to improving the sharpness and fitness of all the players involved and giving newcomers in both camps an early warning what a Saints-Warriors derby really means.

Double winners Wigan edged the contest, turning the tables after trailing 12-6 at half-time and giving their hosts a sharp reminder that they will again be a formidable force once the 2014 campaign gets under way.

This point was not lost on Saints head coach Nathan Brown who said: “Wigan will be a top four side again this season and showed us areas where we still need to improve and work on.

“It was a clear indication of where we are at this point in time but we can only benefit from what we learned on the night.”

He added: “Wigan’s attack was more fluent than ours and their contact wrestle more effective.”

From Saints’ perspective, all eyes were firmly focused on the contribution of Aussie new boy Luke Walsh - making his first appearance for the club.

For more than an hour, the former Penrith Panthers scrum half demonstrated why the club had brought him half way around the world in the hope of adding much-needed creativity to a side which has fallen short in recent years.

His on-field skills were there for all to see as he orchestrated the team around the park, even finding time to cajole the players and point to where he wanted them to go during the heat of the battle, as well as producing some astute tactical kicks.

Unfortunately, he was forced to withdraw 16 minutes from the end after suffering a facial injury which left the Saints medical staff initially fearing the worse.

But an X-ray later revealed he had suffered no serious damage and he was given a clean bill of health.

Wigan, who open their Super League campaign this Friday against 2013 table-toppers Huddersfield Giants at the DW Stadium, started more positively but were rocked back on their heels when the hosts struck first in fifth minute.

Winger Adam Swift did the damage, picking up a loose ball and scorching 60 metres to the try line to leave Walsh a comfortable conversion.

But Wigan hit back and after winger Joe Burgess had been denied twice by great last-ditch tackles they drew level in the 23rd minute - Blake Green sending Liam Farrell over and Matty Smith’s goal levelling the scores.

Saints, however, were far from deflated when McCarthy-Scarsbrook was sin-binned and reclaimed the lead after 37 minutes.

A towering Walsh kick caused mayhem in the visitors’ defence, eventually leading to Roby crashing over.

Walsh slotted over his second goal to give Saints a six-point interval advantage but that was erased on 46 minutes when a slick handling move resulted in Joe Burgess crossing the whitewash and ex-Saints ace Smith added the extras.

Wigan continued on the front foot and grabbed the lead for the first time a few minutes later when Blake Green raced in and Smith, who had been instrumental in most of his side’s positive play, landed his third goal.

Saints, however, were far from finished and Swift’s second try, which followed a made-to-measure Josh Jones pass, left the outcome balanced on a knife edge with just under half an hour remaining.

But then a misunderstanding between Lance Hohaia and Mark Percival, paved the way for Burgess to squeeze over in the corner after 74 minutes to extend Wigan’s lead to 22-16.

Ryan Hampshire’s failure from the resultant kick still left Saints with at least an outside chance of sharing the spoils until a last-minute Gil Dudson try and Hampshire goal sealed their fate.

Saints: Lomax, Swift, Percival, Jones, Dawson, Turner, Walsh, Amor, Roby, Laffranchi, Wilkin, Manu, McCarthy-Scarsbrook.

Subs: Hohaia, Soliola, Flanagan, Wellens, Walmsley, Wheeler, Richards, Forster.

Wigan Warriors: Bowen, Burgess, Goulding, Sarginson, Thornley, Green, Smith, Taylor, Powell, Flower, Farrell, Chubb, O’Loughlin.

Subs: Hughes, Tomkins, Dudson, Crosby, Pettybourne, Bateman, Hampshire, Williams, James, Manfredi.

Referee: Phil Bentham.