St Helens profited from two blunders by Wigan’s veteran fullback Matty Bowen to win an absorbing grand-final re-match to go top of the Super League.
Wigan led 10-8 at the break and Friday’s game was locked at 14-14 when Joel Tomkins scored their third try on 50 minutes, but the champions finished strongly to claim a 30-14 victory and leapfrog Leeds at the top of the table.
All three of Saints’ second-half tries were gifted by the visitors, two of them after former NRL star Bowen fumbled kicks from St Helens’ captain Jon Wilkin, who shrugged off a head injury to lead his side’s assault.
Hooker James Roby defied a hand injury to play the full 80 minutes.
Most eyes had been on Ben Flower as he faced St Helens for the first time since his dismissal in the opening moments of October’s grand final for punching Lance Hohaia and the Welsh international prop shrugged off the boos to give Wigan a solid start with a series of strong runs.
Flower made way after 16 minutes for the return of winger Joe Burgess, helped off only two minutes in after catching a stray boot to the head.
That meant a re-shuffle, with John Bateman joining fellow second-rower Tomkins in the centres. The visitors went in front when Dan Sarginson, switched to the wing in Burgess’ temporary absence, accepted George Williams’ cutout pass to cross for the first try.
Matty Smith added the goal and the Warriors led 6-0 after a brutal opening quarter.
The home crowd were incensed by a high tackle from Wigan captain Sean O’Loughlin on opposite number Wilkin, while Saints’ heavyweight prop Mose Masoe angered Wigan fans with a late flop on hooker Michael McIlorum.
Saints discovered a purple patch to score two tries in a three-minute spell to go in front.
Quick hands enabled centre Jordan Turner to get winger Adam Swift over in the corner on 28 minutes and, after five-eighth Travis Burns had booted a 40-20, an almost identical move from the resulting scrum allowed Turner to force his way over himself.
Wigan regained the lead two minutes before the break when Saints’ passing broke down near their opponents’ line and Burgess, showing no ill-effects from his head knock, pounced and sprinted 90 metres for an opportunist score.
The lead changed hands for a third time time when Bowen was deceived by the bounce following Wilkin’s grubber kick and Burns dived on it for St Helens’ third try.
Mark Percival made it 14-10 but it was all square 10 minutes into the second half when Tomkins finished a slick handling move to cross for Wigan’s third try.
Saints dominated the final quarter, pulling clear on 65 minutes when Bowen made a hash of dealing with Wilkin’s high kick and McDonnell was gifted an easy try.