Wigan withheld a spirited effort from Salford Red Devils to move a step closer to retaining the Super League title. The Warriors will face the league leaders, St Helens, on Friday to determine the identity of the first team in this year’s Grand Final: but the losers could run into a Salford side who, on this showing, are by no means outsiders for the title.
Few gave Ian Watson’s side a chance of competing with the bigger sides in the play-offs after somehow finishing third against all the odds, but they gave the reigning champions an almighty fright here, with George Williams’ second-half try proving to be the winner. However, their final position in the league table means they get another chance to keep their season alive.
They face Castleford in a do-or-die game next Thursday, with the winners facing the losers of St Helens versus Wigan. The hosts led early on here thanks to Oliver Gildart’s fine solo try but Salford were well worthy of the share of the lead they claimed at half-time thanks to George Griffin’s well-worked try.
With Krisnan Inu converting to make it 6-6 at half-time, it was clear the Red Devils were very much in the game – a point reinforced nine minutes after the restart, when they came desperately close to going ahead. Wonderful handling created just enough space for Ken Sio to dive over in the corner but, on closer inspection, his leg had strayed into touch, resulting in the try being ruled out.
That proved a crucial moment. From it Wigan assumed control of the contest and forced the error that swung the game in their favour.
Fine defensive work close to the Salford line forced Inu into a needless offload, and Tommy Leuluai pounced on the loose ball to put the Warriors ahead.
Four minutes later Salford’s race looked run when Joe Burgess’ break was supported superbly by Williams. With Zak Hardaker converting both, the hosts led 18-6 but Salford were not done.
The Red Devils responded magnificently when it looked as though Wigan were about to kick on, with a wonderful individual try from Jackson Hastings halving the deficit and setting up a thrilling finale.
Indeed there were further close calls for the Red Devils in the dying moments but the Warriors, as they have done on so many occasions at this time of the year, dug deep and hung on to ensure victory.