St Helens comfortably came out on top in a feisty derby at the DW Stadium with a 26-2 win over Wigan which virtually ended their rivals’ hopes of a top-two finish.
Referee Chris Kendall brandished four yellow cards, two of them to England forward John Bateman, after struggling to keep tempers in check in a match packed with all the brutality and intensity expected of a Wigan-Saints derby played in front of a Super League season’s best crowd of 16,390.
Both teams were coming off the back of surprise defeats, Saints losing at home to Castleford and Wigan coming unstuck at Hull KR, but it was the champions who restored some normality with an impressive all-round display.
The ferocious tackles flew in from the start and Wigan winger Liam Marshall was forced off after a minute after being flattened in a three-man challenge.
That meant the early introduction of Bateman, with his England second row team-mate Liam Farrell switched to the threequarters, but he was quickly despatched to the sin bin after coming to blows with Saints second rower James Bentley.
Bentley, making his first start since April after recovering from a broken leg, was also shown a yellow card and the game appeared to settle down, although it continued at a fast pace until both teams began to tire in the last five minutes of the half when the errors began to creep in.
Saints always looked the more purposeful team and they opened the scoring with an eighth-minute try from winger Regan Grace, who profited from a cut-out pass by full-back Lachlan Coote after creating the position with a break from his own half.
Wigan stand-off Jackson Hastings posed a few problems for the visitors with his shrewd ball distribution but the Warriors’ only points came through a penalty by his half-back partner Harry Smith.
Saints’ threats, on the other hand, came from all over the pitch with Coote, Jonny Lomax and Mark Percival all proving a handful while Lewis Dodd came up with a superb piece of opportunism to score the other first-half try.
The rookie scrum-half stole the ball one-on-one from Wigan prop Oliver Partington as he attempted to bring it away from his own line to score his third try in five games as he continues to demonstrate his readiness to take over the number seven shirt from Theo Fages.
Coote converted both tries as the champions led 12-2 at the interval and the exchanges were just as fierce in the second half.
Coote needed to go off for a head injury assessment after being tackled high by Hastings as he made a dash for the line and Dodd kicked the resulting penalty to extend his side’s lead to 12 points.
It got worse for the home side when Bateman was shown a second yellow card after 50 minutes for dissent and Saints should have made them pay when Percival reached the line only to lose his grip on the ball.
There was no stopping Percival after 62 minutes, however, as he got on the end of a break by Grace to score his side’s third try which made the game safe.
Wigan were back down to 12 men at that stage after centre Willie Isa was sin-binned for a high tackle on Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook.
Coote provided the telling pass in the move for Percival’s try after returning to the field but his accuracy with the boot deserted him as he pushed both a penalty and a conversion wide of the posts.
It matter little, however, such was Saints’ stranglehold on the game and prop Alex Walmsley powered over for their fourth try in the last minute, with Coote kicking his fourth goal.
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