St Helens. . . .8
THE arrival of a New Zealander at Central Park made all the difference to Wigan yesterday. It was not, however, Va'aiga Tuigamala, who made the impact. That distinction fell to the rather less bulky and much less costly figure of Sam Panapa.
Wigan were trailing 8-0 and showing few signs of putting a shaky start behind them when Panapa appeared as a substitute for the injured Shaun Edwards. Within two minutes, he had begun the move that ended with another substitute, Martin Dermott, darting over from the play-the-ball and Wigan never looked back.
Their next try, the one that put them permanantly into a lead that took them to the top of the First Division, featured two remarkable passes, first from Andy Farrell to Gary Connolly and then from Panapa to put Martin Offiah in at the corner.
Panapa, an invaluable jack-of-all-trades since his modest pounds 35,000 signing from Sheffield Eagles three years ago, maintained his grip on proceedings after the break. Only one of the five tries Wigan ran in during the second half did not involve him.
Panapa began by sending Farrell striding through for a touchdown. It was also his pass that sent Neil Cowie in for his try and Panapa's break and pass to Barrie-Jon Mather also paved the way for an unusual try by Edwards. He was on the wing because injuries forced him to return despite a troublesome shoulder.
Wigan were down to 11 fit men at one stage, with Kelvin Skerrett spending 10 minutes in the sin-bin as had Connolly in the first half, but that never looked likely to hold them back, so complete was their domination by the latter stages of the game. It was fitting that Panapa should score the final try, side-stepping through gloriously for the most deserved four points of the match.
Joe Lydon's third goal, to add to Frano Botica's three, left Wigan just a point short of the damage Saints inflicted on them in the equivalent fixture a year ago.
That will be small consolation to Saints' new coach, Eric Hughes, who, even allowing for the absence of key players like Alan Hunte, Tea Ropati and George Mann, must be reflecting on how the gap between the clubs has widened alarmingly in 12 months.
Yet Saints had started promisingly, their tackling and overall commitment much more intense than in recent weeks, and their reward coming with a try and two goals from Steve Prescott.
All was set for another twist in the unpredictable history of these holiday derbies and Wigan might have started to think that it had not been such a bad idea to forget to heat their pitch overnight. But then came Panapa. For Inga the Winger, read Sam the Man.
Wigan: Lydon; Robinson, Mather, Connolly, Offiah; Botica (Edwards, 59), Edwards (Panapa, 22); Skerrett, Hall (Dermott, 18), Platt, Cowie, Farrell, Clarke.
St Helens: Prescott; Riley, Veivers, Loughlin, Sullivan; Griffiths, O'Donnell; Dannatt, Dwyer (Haigh, 41), Fogarty (Neill, 18), Joynt, Nickle (Fogarty, 50), Cooper.
Referee: J Holdsworth (Kippax).