FOR a game illuminated by some classy tries, it took a ‘mad dog’ tackling stint midway through the second half to finally stamp out the Wigan resistance and wrap up the spoils in a compelling Super League opener.

A smartly polished-off four-pointer from flying wing Regan Grace which nudged Saints back into a 16-12 lead against the dogged Warriors was the cue to crank it up a notch.

And crank it up they did with wave after wave of big shots from an impenetrable wall of muscle and bone to nail the Wigan ball carriers inside their own 20.

It was not simply the big men, even centre Mark Percival got in on the act to smash Gabriel Hamlin backwards and ensure Thomas Leuluai kicked on the back foot.

As statements go, this was a pretty big one and the balance shifted once again in Saints favour – with James Roby’s dummy half special sealing it seven minutes from time.

The game had been especially selected to kick off Super League’s brave new world, with the new beginnings underpinned heavily by that old rivalry and more than 16,500 braved the biting cold to watch a compelling struggle between last year’s top two.

There were debuts for a trio of NRL players – with Kevin Naiqama wasting no time to pen his first line in his Saints chapter when, two minutes in, from a standing start he shuffled to wrong-foot Dan Sarginson before fending with a jack-hammer hand-off to launch himself at the whitewash to open the scoring.

Fellow new recruit Lachlan Coote was heavily involved in proceedings, with his graceful running, vision and left-foot kicking, which was repeatedly called upon on for the last play option, catching the eye.

There was a minor blot with one spilled ball and an intercept, but the Scottish international showed that he will be much more of integral team player than his predecessor.

How that spine will knit together will be interesting, particularly given Justin Holbrook’s choice of sevens seems not to be fixed at the moment, with Theo Fages getting the first crack.

And it could be very much horses for courses from here on in.

A strong performance from Alex Walmsley, playing his first senior game since breaking his neck last March, showed Saints what they had been missing in that middle unit.

It takes some bottle to take the field after such a serious injury, but Walmsley rolled his sleeves up and gave an immense contribution, with his bullocking runs repeatedly denting the Wigan line.

He ran strongly, in tandem with Luke Thompson ­— with the big men generally showing up well under the new, speeded-up game featuring reduced interchanges and the shot clock for the first time.

Saints pack was immense, with Morgan Knowles his typical industrious and energetic self at loose forward.

And at the heart of it was skipper Roby, a man who keeps turning up, always committed and leading by example.

And it was fitting that the week in which he signed another new deal that will take his service to 20 seasons that he capped it with the match-sealing score seven minutes from time.

Match stats:

Saints 22 Wigan 12

Saints: Coote; Makinson, Naiqama, Percival, Grace; Lomax, Fages; Walmsley, Roby, Thompson, Taia, Peyroux, Knowles. Subs: Paulo, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Amor, Lees.

Tries: Naiqama (2) Lomax (15) Grace (50) Roby (73).

Goals: Percival 3/4)

Wigan: Hardaker; Davies, Gildart, Sarginson, Marshall; Williams, Leuluai; Flower, Powell, Navarette, Greenwood, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Subs: Isa, Hamlin, Clubb, Bullock.

Tries: Flower (28) Marshall (36).

Goals: Hardaker (2/2).

Half time: 12-12

Referee: Robert Hicks

Attendance: 16,508