St Helens 22 Wigan 19

Tempers flare betwen Saints and Wigan on Thursday night
Tempers flare betwen Saints and Wigan on Thursday night

Two tries in the final quarter from centre Mark Percival ensured the honeymoon goes on for new Saints coach Justin Holbrook as he clinched a dramatic 22-19 victory over arch rivals Wigan.

Wigan thought they had won it when a drop goal from the returning Thomas Leuluai edged them back in front nine minutes from the end of a pulsating encounter but Percival pounced for the winning try five minutes later to send the bulk of the 13,138 crowd into raptures.

Coming off the back of a 45-0 rout of Hull at the Magic Weekend, just 48 hours after he arrived in the country, Australian Holbrook could hardly have made a better start to his reign as a head coach.

Leuluai provided a boost for Wigan but they were forced into a late change when Joel Tomkins withdrew during the warm-up and Saints began at a furious pace, with front row pair Alex Walmsley and Kyle Amor tearing with gusto into their opponents’ defensive line.

The home side deservedly went in front when centre Ryan Morgan leap high to gather a high kick from former Wigan scrum-half Matty Smith and score the opening try.

Saints could not sustain the pace, however, and Wigan gradually got on top.

O’Loughlin and Leuluai combined for full-back Lewis Tierney to get winger Tom Davies over for an equalising try on 13 minutes and the Warriors went in front with a penalty from stand-off George Williams.

Tierney then finished off a smart break by replacement hooker Sam Powell to score Wigan’s second try and Williams’s third goal made it 14-6.

Wigan were dominant at that stage but they dipped noticeably when O’Loughlin was taken off for a breather after half-an-hour.

A first penalty of the match enabled St Helens to halt the momentum and they struck back five minutes before the break when second rower Zeb Ta’ia easily won the race to Smith’s perfectly-judged grubber kick to touch down.

Percival kicked his second conversion but was wide with a penalty on the stroke of half-time to leave his side trailing by two points.

Wigan were forced to produce some tremendous defence in the third quarter to keep their lead intact.

O’Loughlin was held up over the line within minutes of re-entering the field and the visitors duly extended their lead on the hour when winger Adam Swift failed to clear the danger posed by Williams’s grubber kick and centre Joe Burgess got a hand to the ball before it ran dead.

Williams was off target with his boot for the first time and that enabled St Helens to draw level six minutes later when Percival came off a devastating angle after taking Theo Fages’ reverse pass top scythe through for his first try.

Saints had the first chance to break the deadlock but Smith mis-cued his drop-goal attempt and Leuluai was on target nine minutes from the end to edge his side back in front.

It looked like it might be enough but Percival had other ideas, beating Tierney to collect Smith’s high kick and racing over for the match-winner.