Widnes Vikings 22 Wigan Warriors 22 (Half-time 6-16)

The anticipation for the new Super League season has been building for weeks in Rugby league circles, with many predicting an unusually open campaign due to the strengthening of several of the so-called weaker sides in the top league. It was still a major surprise though for last year’s Grand Final runners-up, the Wigan Warriors to almost come unstuck against Widnes Vikings last night in the league opener, as they clung on to an unlikely draw at the end of the match.

For Widnes it was an encouraging opening to their season, especially after they lost Patrick Ah Van to a red card midway through the first-half, when his swinging right arm caught English international winger Josh Charnley. They had already conceded two tries by that point. Wigan know only too well how being down to twelve men can impact on your chances of victory, after their similar experience in last year’s Grand Final, where St Helens took advantage to take the title. So there would have been few among the 9,286 crowd at the Select Security Stadium last night, who could have predicted that the Vikings would stage such a memorable comeback, especially after trailing 16-0 and then 22-12 to a powerful Warriors’ side. They were indebted to tries in the final stages from Cameron Phelps and Chris Dean for the unexpected recovery.

Wigan had started the brighter and looked to have moved into a commanding position, when they led 16-0 thanks to tries from Joel Tomkins and a brace from Anthony Gelling. Widnes also lost their playmaker and captain Kevin Brown after just 22 minutes (due to concussion), as the game looked to be getting away from them. Yet rugby league is notorious for teams being able to score points quickly and they had reduced the deficit by the interval to ten points, after Joe Mellor went over for a try of their own.

The home side were right back in the match shortly into the second period, when Rhys Hanbury ran on to a neat grubber kick to go over, but looked to have too much to do when Wigan’s Joe Burgess restored their advantage with a further try. Cue the dramatic finale, as first Phelps and then Dean capped a remarkable fight back for the Vikings.

Afterwards, the visitors’ coach Shaun Wane was brutally honest about the result, stating that it felt like a loss rather than a point gained, as they basically lost their grip on the game to throw away what should have been an uplifting first-day success. He told BBC Radio Manchester: “The way we gave the game up to Widnes and we didn’t finish our try-scoring opportunities is disappointing – we need to be better at that.”

Widnes benefited from their biggest crowd in ten years, who were no doubt buoyed by their side’s resilience and spirit throughout the match.

The Super League opening round of fixtures continues tonight, with Grand Final winners St Helens entertaining the Catalan Dragons. 
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