Depending on the Catalans Dragons result at Hull KR, a win for the Wigan Warriors over the Salford Red Devils in their round twenty-four clash at the DW Stadium could see them move to the top of the table and into the minor premiers’ spot with just three rounds of the regular season remaining.
The Red Devils started the game in the last play-off position, above Hull KR only on points percentage as the two sides have identical league points and points difference. A win would lift them a spot closer to guaranteeing them a playoff spot, a loss would throw their end of season plans back into turmoil.
Wigan were the favourites with the bookies, the Red Devils given a ten-point start on the handicap coupon.
All the early running was made by the Warriors, and it seemed just a matter of time before they registered the first points but after Marc Sneyd was dumped on his back in the tackle, and Wigan were penalised for lifting, Ryan Brierley kicked the penalty goal to edge his side into a narrow lead after seventeen minutes.
The lead lasted just three minutes before the Warriors did get their first try as Liam Farrell danced his way to the line and after running rings around the Salford defence, he dove between two defenders to ground. Harry Smith pushed his conversion attempt across the face of the posts.
Another Salford penalty after a scrum infringement saw Brierley add another goal to level the scores.
On thirty-two Abbas Miski crossed in the right-hand corner on the back of a Wigan penalty, Miski in an acre of space to walk in and ground with ease. Smith was unable to add the conversion, well wide with his attempt.
Four minutes later Jake Wardle joined the Wigan scorers as he took a miss-out pass from Jai Field to go between two tacklers and score. Smith hit the target from wide for a 14-4 lead.
After the half time hooter Field dealt a killer blow as he took a high kick and sprinted eighty-five metres to score under the sticks and make the Smith conversion a simple one for 20-4 at the interval.
Salford were down to twelve men on forty-five when King Vuniyayawa was sin-binned for a high tackle on Bevan French.
On forty-nine the Warriors took the game beyond doubt as they stretched the Red Devils defence, Toby King taking a back-handed pass to walk through the broken defence and score. Smith was on target again for a 26-4 lead, there was no way back for the visitors.
Ken Sio grabbed some small consolation for Salford on seventy minutes as the Wigan defensive line finally started to tire. Sneyd was wide with his conversion attempt, a disappointed Salford finishing the game eighteen points adrift of the new league leaders who had put in a solid performance.
As the news drifted through from Hull that KR had beaten the league leaders, the Catalans Dragons, then it was great news for Wigan who had gone top of the table, but terrible news for Salford Red Devils who had now dropped out of the top six and one of the all-important play-off positions.
Wigan Warriors: Field (T), Miski (T), King (T), Wardle (T), Marshall, French, Smith (3G), Ellis, O’Neill, Byrne, Pearce-Paul, Farrell (T), Smithies. Subs: Powell, Shorrocks, Mago, Nsemba. 18th Man: Hill.
Salford Red Devils: Brierley (2G), Sio (T), Cross, Lafai, Burgess, Croft, Sneyd, Singleton, Ackers, Partington, Watkins, Stone, Addy. Subs: Ormondroyd, Vuniyayawa (SB on 45), Atkin, Hellewell. 18th Man: Sidwell.
Score Progression: 0-2, 4-2, 4-4, 8-4, 12-4, 14-4, 18-4, 20-4 : HT: (SB), 24-4, 26-4, 26-8 :FT.
Lead Exchanges: Salford – Wigan – Square – Wigan.
Referee: Chris Kendall.