James Roby gave Super League’s “New Beginnings” a familiar face by scoring the decisive try in a thrilling opening night clash.
Just two days after committing himself to his boyhood club for another three seasons, the 33-year-old poached a try from close range with just seven minutes left.
It eventually tilted the gripping contest in Saints’ favour after they had seen an early 12-0 lead reeled in by local rivals Wigan.
Kevin Naiqama and Jonny Lomax put the home side ahead before Ben Flower and Liam Marshall levelled the score at half-time.
Regan Grace’s spectacular finish edged Saints back in front before Roby clinched it.
Here are five talking points from the game…
1. Super League lives up to the hype
After months of talking about new beginnings, a faster game and more focus on the players, St Helens and Wigan delivered where it matters most, on the pitch.
The new laws – including shot clocks for restarts at stoppages such as scrums – speeded the game up significantly, with the first half lasting a total of just 43 minutes.
The two teams played out a thrilling contest that included some breath-taking passages of play despite the freezing temperatures.
And a near-capacity crowd produced a crackling atmosphere befitting the contest that originally spawned the sporting term derby.
If this was a marker for what 2019 is to deliver, a thrilling campaign lies ahead.
2. New Beginnings, same old Roby
It was somewhat fitting that on a night aimed at speeding up Super League, the relentless James Roby produced the crucial play.
Despite now being 33, the non-stop hooker shows no signs of slowing down.
While some were understandably tiring in the closing stages after a pulsating clash, the seemingly indefatigable Roby kept going.
He remains one of the most valuable players in the sport.
3. Fages justifies selection
Much of the pre-match talk about team selection centred around the St Helens scrum-half position.
Brilliant youngster Danny Richardson held down the place all of last year, but after a niggling close season injury, coach Justin Holbrook plumped instead for French international Theo Fages,
He repaid that faith in full, was lively in attack, produced dangerous kicks and was defensively excellent, winning the supporter-voted-for man of the match award by a distance.
It’s a nice headache for Holbrook to have going forward.
4. Tale of two full-backs
It wasn’t quite a faultless debut for St Helens full-back Lachlan Coote – his first half interception pass to Liam Marshall saw to that.
But otherwise, the signs for Saints were very good that Coote will prove a more than adequate replacement for Steve Prescott Man of Steel winner Ben Barba.
Coote brings different qualities to the role than the explosive Barba, who could create something out of nothing.
The new signing provided an assured presence at the back, calming clearing a host of differing dangerous kicks and linking well in attack.
On the opposite side and also making his bow for a new club was Zak Hardaker, whose past doesn’t need repeating.
He was equally solid at the back and among Wigan’s most dangerous players with the ball.
Both men will only get better in coming weeks.
5. Bullock the latest Championship jewel
If Wigan debutant Joe Bullock needed any inspiration over what can be achieved after a relatively late rise to the top, he had only to look across a scrum at St Helens prop Alex Walmsley.
His performances for Batley earned him a Super League move that culminated in an England call-up, and the early signs for Bullock are promising.
The fellow front rower started his career as a winger in Wigan’s academy before having to re-invent himself first at Leigh and then Barrow.
It was there Wigan picked him up for a second time – and Bullock helped change the course of the first half with a number of stirring charges up front.
It was a terrific start for him, and shows the kind of talent that exists outside the top flight.
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