Wigan Warriors denied Leigh Centurions a dream return to Super League as they rallied from 18 points down to claim a 20-18 victory on Friday night.
The Centurions were on course for a famous victory over last season’s League Leaders Shield winners after running in three tries without reply inside the opening half an hour at Emerald Headingly.
But despite being without the likes of Jackson Hastings and Bevan French, Wigan fought back and scored four unanswered tries – two of them from Jake Bibby - to get their season off to a winning start.
Leigh can take plenty of positives from the game though, having been fast-tracked back into the top flight following the rejection of Toronto Wolfpack, and they rocked last year’s Grand Finalists with their boundless energy both on and off the ball.
Leigh make fast start
John Duffy’s side went in front just six minutes in when captain Liam Hood dived his way over the line from dummy half and full-back Ryan Brierley kicked the extras.
In a rare foray forwards, Wigan came close to drawing level when Zak Hardaker was unlucky not to reach Sam Powell’s kick to the line but it was generally all Leigh in the opening periods of the game and half-back Joe Mellor was denied by a forward pass.
A handling error from the returning John Bateman gifted the Centurions field position and Brierley played in Iain Thornley who crossed over to score against his former club for his side’s second try.
Things then went from good to even better for the new boys when Hood burst forwards and kicked ahead for second-rower Ben Hellewell to touch down.
Brierley added a third conversion to make it 18-0 and Mellor missed a great chance to extend the lead further when he failed to pick up a loose ball with the freedom of the Wigan half in front of him.
Warriors hit back
And the missed opportunity began to look costly when the Warriors hit back with two tries in the last four minutes of the first half.
Bibby moved onto the right wing after debutant Jai Field’s injury early on, and he took a pass from Willie Isa to go over at the corner and then he turned creator for Hardaker after Bateman played a neat pass.
Hardaker was unable to convert either try as Wigan trailed 18-8 at the break, but the momentum was clearly with Adrian Lam’s side.
Wigan turn it around
Joe Bullock pushed his way over to score their third try twenty minutes after the restart after taking a pass from half-back Harry Smith.
And three minutes later Hardaker broke spectacularly from deep inside his own half to get the supporting Bibby over for his second and Wigan’s fourth of the night.
Hardaker kicked a second conversion to put the Warriors ahead for the first time, and they were able to withstand the Centurions’ late efforts to snatch the win.