Twelve-man Widnes fought back from 16-0 down to earn a dramatic late 22-22 draw against Wigan in the first game of Super League XX.
Patrick Ah Van was controversially shown the red card by referee James Child on 23 minutes after he caught Josh Charnley in the face with a high, swinging arm; however, replays suggested it was unintentional. The Warriors, who led 10-0 at the time, went 16-0 in front five minutes later, but a tremendous second half fight back by the hosts was completed when Chris Dean barged his way over the line under the sticks. Stefan Marsh’s conversion earned the Vikings a well deserved point just three minutes from the hooter.
Wigan’s Matty Smith was shown a yellow card for kicking Rhys Hanbury in the aftermath of Dean’s match-saving score, after touch judge Robert Hicks informed Child of the offence.
The visitors had taken the lead on eight minutes through a Joel Tomkins try. Hep Cahill had been harshly penalised for interference on Logan Tomkins – who replaced injured Michael McIlorum – to provide the platform for Shaun Wane’s men; stand-off George Williams with the pass that sent the eldest Tomkins brother over.
Anthony Gelling grabbed the first of his two tries on the night on the quarter-hour mark, on the back of a break from John Bateman, following a sharp pass by Smith. Wigan appeared in control of the game and the Vikings weren’t helped when influential playmaker Kevin Brown was forced from the field following a thunderous tackle by young prop Ryan Sutton.
A series of penalties to the away side followed, on the back of infringements in and around the ruck which riled the vociferous home support. Those Vikings fans were even more incensed when Ah Van was sent for an early bath, although the incident ended Charnley’s night too, as he was taken off with concussion.
The space vacated by Ah Van down Widnes’ defensive left edge was exploited by the Warriors a few minutes later. Wigan switched the ball from their left to right and Bateman again provided the pass to put Cook Islander Gelling over in the corner.
The Cherry and Whites appeared to be cruising at 16-0 up but five minutes from half-time Joe Mellor raced 40 metres down the right touchline to offer the home fans some hope of a comeback. Joe Burgess couldn’t take in a Matty Bowen pass and the 24 year-old former Wigan player picked up the loose ball before fending off Williams to score in the corner. Danny Tickle’s conversion reduced the arrears still further and Wigan’s lead at the break was 16-6.
In the opening minutes of the second half, Liam Carberry was twice held up just short of the Wigan try line, before full-back Hanbury did eventually score a four-pointer. A superb dab through from Mellor evaded Bowen and Smith and was gleefully touched down by 29 year-old Hanbury, and the gap was down to just four points.
There was a sense that the next score would be crucial and the Warriors thought they had got it when Joel Tomkins touched down. However the video referee rightly ruled that Smith’s high bomb had been knocked out of young winger Declan Hulme’s hands by Sean O’Loughlin and ruled a Wigan knock on.
Just three minutes later last year’s beaten Grand Finalists did score to re-establish a 10 point buffer. Bowen, Tony Clubb, Gelling and Williams all combined to swiftly move the ball from left to right and put Joe Burgess over in the corner.
At times tempers did threaten to boil over, none more so than when Mellor was tripped after getting his kick away and players from both sides came rushing in from all over the pitch to confront one another. The referee again upset the home fans by awarding Wigan the penalty after the incident.
Gelling was denied his hat-trick try because of a Bowen forward pass and five minutes later Widnes had scored themselves. Hulme already appeared to have been bundled into touch before Joel Tomkins’ second effort, but the Vikings were awarded a penalty and ex-Warrior Cameron Phelps was sent over by Hanbury. With Tickle off the field, Stefan Marsh took over kicking duties but was off target from the left touchline.
Wigan’s lead was down to just six points and Widnes began cranking up the pressure, Aaron Heremaia was held up just short before a kick to the left corner was knocked on by Gelling. From the resulting set Dean forced his way over the line, which led to Hanbury celebrating in front of Smith who then lashed out. Joel Tomkins also wrestled Phelps to the floor in the melee. Smith was eventually shown just a yellow card by Child.
Marsh slotted over the conversion from bang in front of the posts to earn Widnes a thoroughly deserved share of the spoils.