Catalan Dragons 38 Wigan 30: Fakir conjures French fire

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The Independent Online

The new French presence in Super League exceeded all expectations last night as a big crowd saw the Catalan Dragons breathe fire in the last five minutes to claim a famous inaugural victory.

Wigan were four points ahead with time running out when Pat Richards fumbled a restart kick. From that possession the Catalans showed typical enterprise with the ball for Ian Hindmarsh to go over for the equalising try. Laurent Frayssinous kicked the goal that put them ahead and then, in the last minute, Justin Murphy got the final touch to a loose ball over the line.

The win does not guarantee that this venture is going to succeed, but it certainly gives it a fighting chance.

Parts of Perpignan were a sea of cherry and white as Wigan fans made the most of the fixture. The French wanted Wigan for their opening match too, not just because they remain the most recognisable name in France but also because they thought they might beat them. The suspicion was that they might have been better off playing last year's Wigan team than this.

But the new face of Wigan had a few blemishes early on. From their first possession, Sean O'Loughlin's short pass to Iafeta Palea'aesina went forward and the Catalans made full use of the possession, moving the ball wide through Stacey Jones and Sean Rudder for Mark Hughes to score in the corner with only 80 seconds on the clock.

Teddy Sadaoui almost got in for a second on the opposite wing before Wigan hit back with two tries in five minutes. Brett Dallas struggled over from David Vaealiki's pass and then a fine break from Chris Ashton set up Palea'aesina for his first try for the club.

The Catalans showed their resilience when Jones's beautifully placed kick sat up perfectly for Frayssinous to score and kick the equalising goal. They would have soon had another through Jones's pass to Chris Beattie, but for an offside ruling.

Jamal Fakir has caught many eyes as one of the likely stars of the season and he showed how dangerous he can be by charging on to Rudder's short pass to take the French team back into the lead just before the half hour.

Unfortunately, Fakir became notable for other reasons, twice conceding penalties for high tackles on Wayne Godwin. The second, awarded rather harshly, saw him sent to the sin bin and Wigan immediately took advantage when Dennis Moran spotted a gap and darted through to level the scores.

Immediately before half-time Moran was prominent again, linking up with Godwin to send Jerry Seuseu over for the try which put Wigan back in the lead at the end of a tiring first 40 minutes.

Tries from Rinaldi, Rénaud Guigue and Murphy gave the Dragons the edge at the start of the second half but they looked to be on their way to honourable defeat when the impressive young Chris Ashton helped Richards to get outside Guigue for the converted try that put Wigan ahead after 70 minutes.

A penalty from Danny Tickle extended that lead, but then it all went horribly wrong for Wigan. Their only consolation might be that plenty of other teams are going to find life very difficult in Perpignan.

Catalans: Frayssinous; Murphy, Sadaoui, Wilson, Hughes; Rudder, Jones; Beattie, Rinaldi, Fellous, Guisset, Fakir, Hindmarsh. Substitutes used: Guigue, Chan, Jampy, Mounis

Wigan: Ashton; Calderwood, Richards, Vaealiki, Dallas; O'Loughlin, Moran, Logan, Higham, Palea'aesina, Tickle, Hansen, Tomkins. Substitutes used: Brown, Godwin, Seuseu, Orr.

Referee: A Klein (London).