Wigan hardly resembled Super League title favourites as they let slip a 16-0 lead to draw with 12-man Widnes in a rousing opening match of the season in front of a 9,286 crowd here.
The Vikings played most of the match a player short after winger Patrick Ah Van was sent off for a high tackle on England winger Josh Charnley after 23 minutes but they rallied superbly to earn an unlikely share of the spoils.
The draw was all the more remarkable as Widnes lost influential playmaker Kevin Brown with concussion after only 22 minutes, following a heavy tackle from teenage prop Ryan Sutton.
Shaun Wane’s men were already running the show by then with a 10-0 lead which they extended to 16-0 – but they were pegged back.
Wigan, too, had their share of adversity. They had second rower Joel Tomkins back in his makeshift centre role in the absence of Dan Sarginson and Iain Thornley, while brother Logan deputised at hooker for Michael McIlorum, who missed the end of last season because of injury and sat out here through illness.
Anthony Gelling marked his 50th appearance with two of the Warriors’ four tries as they failed to register only their fifth win in their last 14 opening-day matches, while 20-year-old playmaker George Williams showed promise as he began the daunting task of filling the boots of the departed Blake Green.
Wigan lost Charnley with a facial injury on a miserable night for his Sydney-bound fellow winger Joe Burgess, who fluffed a glorious try-scoring opportunity and then gifted a try to Widnes half-back Joe Mellor with a second fumble.
Danny Tickle added the conversion to trim Wigan’s lead to 16-6 and the margin was just four points when Mellor’s grubber kick deceived Matty Bowen and full-back Rhys Hanbury followed up to score his side’s second try.
The visitors were rocking at that stage but Joel Tomkins, who had earlier pounced on Matty Smith’s towering kick to score the first try of Super League XX, put Burgess over on 55 minutes. Smith’s touchline goal made it 22-12.
Gelling was denied a hat-trick by a blatant forward pass by Bowen - before Wigan lost their way in a dramatic last 10 minutes. Centre Cameron Phelps, one of eight former Wiganers in the Vikings ranks, went over 15 minutes from the end to keep his side’s hopes alive and Chris Dean crashed over by the posts with just three minutes to go.
Stefan Marsh, taking on the goalkicking in the absence of both Brown and Tickle, was wide with his first attempt but landed the one from in front of the posts to tie the scores.
Widnes Hanbury; Hulme, Phelps, Marsh, Ah Van; Brown, Mellor; O’Carroll, Carberry, Gerrard, Clarkson, Tickle, Cahill. Replacements used Dean, Heremaia, Isa, Manuokafoa.
Wigan Bowen; Charnley, Gelling, J Tomkins, Burgess; Williams, Smith; Crosby, L Tomkins, Sutton, Bateman, L Farrell, O’Loughlin. Replacements used Powell, Clubb, Tautai, Patrick.
Referee J Child (RFL)Reuse content