Sizzling Saints forced rival boss Shaun Wane into making a rare post-match confession.
After seeing his home-town team topple to a 14-6 defeat to their neighbours at the DW Stadium last night (Thursday), it must have hurt him deeply to admit: “The best team won without a shadow of a doubt.”
A perfectly honest assessment of a spine-chilling, blood-and-thunder and no holds barred derby which captivated a 16,000-strong crowd from start to finish but any other result would have been a travesty of justice.
Saints, playing with the kind of authority and self-confidence expected from a team perched at the summit of Super League, possessed far too much pace and guile for their neighbours and were also more than a match for them physically where some of the bone-crunching tackles made one wince.
But to their credit resilient Wigan refused to throw in the towel despite at times looking on the brink of capitulation and gave their fans a realistic hope of turning the tables with a late try before time ran out.
The table-toppers head coach Justin Holbrook said after his side had notched their 11th league win on the trot: “Neither team gave an inch, there was big hit after big hit for 80 minutes, which showed the brutality of our game.
I’ve never seen a player who defends in the middle make so many cover tackles. When both sides were run off their feet he was the one player still going strong. He is simply a phenomenonJustin Holbrook on James Roby
“I, too, thought we were the better side and created most of the chances but were unable to execute them all.”
He added: “Wigan are a quality side and, although I know they had some troops missing, they kept coming at us and it ended up as a cracking derby.”
Saints, too, went into the fixture without the two current leading try scorers in Super League, the mercurial Ben Barba through injury and Mark Percival who reported sick at the 11th-hour but it didn’t throw a spanner into the works of a well-oiled machine and to say they weren’t missed on the night is a feather in the cap of the squad on duty.
Youngsters like Matty Lees and Jack Ashworth - both rookies in terms of first team appearances - stepped up to the plate during the intensity of a red-hot derby encounter and made vital contributions as Saints earned local bragging rights for the second time this season, having beaten their old foes 21-18 in late March at the Totally Wicked Stadium, and also inflicted a first home defeat in 2018 on the hosts.
Holbrook will no doubt have been as pleased as Punch with the subs’ performances but it was a player at the other end of the scale in terms of big match experience who caught his eye.
The St Helens’ boss said of skipper James Roby, who was making his 43rd appearance in a derby day showdown: “He was the main difference between the teams tonight and is definitely world class.
“I’ve never seen a player who defends in the middle make so many cover tackles.
“You generally make them on the wing but he completed so many tackles to save some dangerous opportunities Wigan created and then when both sides were run off their feet he was the one player still going strong. He is simply a phenomenon.”
Warriors tries: Tomkins (70 mins). Goals: Tomkins (71).
Saints tries: Peyroux (10), Knowles (50). Goals: Richardson (11,19,51).
Referee: Robert Hicks
Teams - Wigan: 1. Sam Tomkins; 2. Tom Davies, 41. Chris Hankinson, 3. Dan Sarginson, 22. Liam Marshall; 34. Josh Woods, 7. Sam Powell; 8. Tony Clubb, 9. Thomas Leuluai, 10. Ben Flower, 19. Willie Isa, 14. John Bateman, 25. Romain Navarrete. Subs: 17. Taulima Tautai, 30. Gabriel Hamlin, 39. Liam Paisley, 40. Joe Greenwood.
Saints: 1. Jonny Lomax; 5. Adam Swift, 2. Tommy Makinson, 3. Ryan Morgan, 19. Regan Grace; 6. Theo Fages, 18. Danny Richardson; 10. Kyle Amor, 9. James Roby, 16. Luke Thompson, 17. Dom Peyroux, 15. Morgan Knowles, 12. Jon Wilkin.
Subs: 13. Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, 14. Luke Douglas, 20. Matty Lees, 21. Jack Ashworth.