Super League XX got off to an exciting, if controversial, start as a twelve-man Widnes Vikings defied all the odds to steal a draw, and share the points with 2014 Grand Finalists the Wigan Warriors.
The largest Widnes crowd for over ten years, a shade over nine thousand, witnessed a match packed full of action, incident and a decent helping of contention which saw Patrick Ah Van red-carded after twenty-two minutes, Matty Smith sin-binned with four minutes left on the clock and Charnley and Brown both leaving the field to not return after falling foul of new Ďconcussioní guidelines.
But it wouldnít be Super League without a bit of controversy.
When Joel Tomkins registered the first competitive try of 2015 it was an early warning to Widnes and the rest of Super League that the Warriors meant business. Within the opening quarter of an hour Anthony Gelling had added a second for the visitors and the boot of Smith gave Wigan a comfortable 10-0 lead.
After having a try ruled out for a knock-on, Patrick Ah Van saw the first red card of the season, rather harshly, after a swinging arm on Charnley which saw the Wigan winger follow Kevin Brown from the field, both suffering from concussion and not allowed to return to the action.
Widnes were down to twelve men and the neutrals feared the worst, but the massive home support got behind their side.
Wigan established a 16-0 lead on twenty-five when Gelling went over taking advantage of a big overlap for his second of the night, and as Smith kicked the extras it looked like an uphill struggle for the Vikings. But there was some first half consolation when Mellor picked up a loose ball inside his own half and went down the touchline to score in the corner. Tickle converted well from the touchline and the sides went into half-time separated by just ten points.
Seven minutes into the second half and the gap was down to four as Hanbury collected a Mellor kick to score under the sticks, making Tickles second conversion of the night a formality, before a Joe Burgess try and Matty Smith goal countered for 12-22.
For the final twenty it was all Widnes as the twelve men threw everything that they had at their visitors.
A Hanbury miss-out pass put Phelps across in the corner after Wigan were penalised for dragging Hulme into touch. Marsh failed to convert but a nail biting finish was on the cards.
With just four minutes left Chris Dean scored one-handed under the posts and Stefan Marsh kicked the conversion to level the scores before Matty Smith was sent to the sin-bin for lashing out with the boot at the celebrating Widnes players.
A frenzied last few minutes didnít trouble the scorers and the season opener ended in a hard fought draw. It was a game that Wigan didnít deserve to win, and one that Widnes didnít deserve to lose.
Neither coach will be entirely happy with the outcome, but the neutrals and supporters of both sides will have been left with plenty to talk about.
Widnes Vikings: Hanbury, Phelps, Marsh, Ah Van, Brown, Mellor, O'Carroll, Tickle, Cahill, Clarkson, Hulme, Carberry, and Gerrard. Subs: Manuokafoa, Dean, Heremaia, Isa.
Wigan Warriors: Bowen, Charnley, Gelling, Burgess, Williams, Smith, Crosby, Tomkins, Farrell, O'Loughlin, Bateman, Tomkins, and Sutton. Subs: Powell, Clubb, Tautai, Patrick.
Referee: James Child
Half Time: 6-16
Full Time: 22-22