|Betfred Super League|
|Wigan Warriors (12) 16|
|Tries: French, Penalty, Marshall Goals: Hardaker|
|Warrington Wolves (10) 10|
|Try: Murdoch-Masila Goals: Ratchford 3|
Wigan won a physical and tense Super League season opener against a Warrington side that had captain Chris Hill sent off after just 23 minutes.
Hill was shown a red card for his high tackle on Sam Powell, which saw the hooker leave the field on a stretcher and Wigan awarded a penalty try.
Bevan French’s earlier try, responding to Ben Murdoch-Masila’s opener, ensured Wigan led 12-10 at the break.
Liam Marshall’s winner came against 11 men, with Mike Cooper sin-binned.
It was not until the hosts had a two-man advantage that they managed to breach a resolute Wolves resistance, and still the visitors piled late pressure on in search of a try to send the game to golden-point extra-time.
Wigan, however, did enough defensively themselves to hold Steve Price’s side at bay in exhausting display that set an thrilling tone for the 2020 Super League season.
The attentions of both sides were finally on the pitch after what had been a bizarre build-up to the season opener, which began with the cancellation of a joint press conference because of the ill-feeling between the two sides.
Wigan then went on to attract plenty of attention with their reaction to Catalans Dragons signing Israel Folau – the Australian rugby union international who was last year sacked for writing homophobic posts on social media.
First, the Warriors announced that their home meeting with the French club next month would be “Pride Day”, only for chairman Ian Lenagan to then admit Wigan had actually considered signing the player themselves – although no approach was ever made.
Two big names they have brought in this season, however, started on their competitive debuts – 2019 Super League Man of Steel and former Salford playmaker Jackson Hastings and former South Sydney enforcer George Burgess.
Burgess was given a thumping Super League introduction when Murdoch-Masila bulldozed by, sitting the England international on the ground on the way to charging over for the season’s first try. Burgess’ night lasted just a few minutes longer as he limped out of the game soon after.
Stefan Ratchford converted what was his second kick of the night to put Wolves 8-0 up after 13 minutes.
While Wolves muscled themselves into the lead, it was the wizardry of French that got Wigan their first points, as the full-back threw an outrageous dummy pass to create space for himself to score.
The game’s decisive moment came soon after with Hill sent off for his high hit on Powell, who was knocked unconscious.
Zak Hardaker converted the ensuing penalty try, but Ratchford got Wolves back to within two at the break with another penalty.
And in a game of high drama, the visitors appeared fortunate not to lose Murdoch-Masila for a high hit of his own. There was also controversy when Wigan forward Morgan Smithies was accused by Warrington stand-off Blake Austin of an eye gouge, which was placed on report.
The incident-packed game then saw Cooper sent to the sin-bin for 10 minutes for his effort to stop French from scoring a second, although the try was not given by the television match official.
But Wigan were not made to wait long for what proved the winning try, as French sent Marshall over out wide.
Wolves, however, did not relent and their hustle in defence saw a Hardaker try disallowed, while their efforts to stop Joe Burgess from racing away for a late score exemplified their gutsy performance.
Wigan Warriors head coach Adrian Lam told BBC Radio Manchester:
“I’m really pleased, I know we were clunky at times and we should have scored more points but if someone approaches to say you’ve won 16-10 in the first game of the season after a long pre-season, you’d take that.
“Sam (Powell) plays a massive role in our team and he’s a leader as well. We had to rotate the other boys around which mucked us up a bit, but that’s rugby league and I thought we handled it pretty good considering the circumstances.
“It will be difficult to see Sam and George Burgess play again next week, so it will give someone else an opportunity and we’re looking forward to that challenge.”
Warrington Wolves head coach Steve Price told BBC Radio Manchester:
“It was a really gutsy 80-minute display of rugby. When Chris got sent off early in the game I was still confident we could display a high-energy game of rugby.
“I thought we did that. We played fast and then slow when we needed to and it’s credit to our two halves to be able to adjust to that.
“It got harder when Coops got yellow carded, but we’re still creating opportunities and the most pleasing thing was we still gave ourselves a chance right at the death.”
Wigan Warriors: French; Marshall, Hardaker, Bibby, Burgess; Leuluai, Hastings; Partington, Powell, Burgess, Isa, Farrell, O’Loughlin.
Interchanges: Byrne, Clubb, Havard, Smithies.
Warrington Wolves: Austin; Ratchford, Lineham, King, Gelling; Charnley, Ashton; Hill, Clark, Cooper, Currie, Murdoch-Masila, Clark.
Interchanges: Philbin, Akauola, Walker, Burrell.