St Helens defeated Wigan 20-18 thanks to a late rally, with Kristian Woolf’s side capitalising on a red card for Brad Singleton to overpower a valiant Warriors effort. Both sides had their strengths and weaknesses shown throughout the game, and clearly defined themselves as the top two contenders for Grand Final glory.
The Saints struck first, but Tommy Makinson missed the match therefore his replacement Jon Bennison stepped up to kick for St Helens, converting a penalty kick after just five minutes. Singleton was penalised for a high tackle on Jonny Lomax that caused the Warriors to go 2-0 down so early in the match.
What followed was another 15 minutes of hard work from both sides. Notably Saints turned the ball over on the Wigan tryline, and the Warriors worked hard to gain territory and fatigue the rapid defensive line that Woolf’s side is known for. Sione Mata’utia was green carded, indicating that he needed to stay on the sidelines for two minutes following an injury assessment.
After 22 minutes, Matty Lees suffered an ankle injury from a low hard tackle courtesy of Irish international Liam Byrne, but continued on. Liam Marshall also suffered a small knock, winding himself with a diving tackle on the young winger Bennison.
Wigan’s red hot full-back turned winger Bevan French continued his incredible run of form, scoring the first try of the game in the corner. An offensive overload left the outbound Regan Grace alone as Jai Field played the pass to find his teammate before he crossed the line. Harry Smith converted from the touchline to make it 2-6 with just over 30 minutes on the clock.
Despite starting the better side, it was St Helens making the mistakes as the clock headed towards the half-time mark. Handling errors from Roby and Hurrell broke up their attacking momentum and prevented any real runs at the Wigan tryline whilst giving the Warriors their own chances.
For the second time of the afternoon, fans in the ground didn’t know whether to cheer or jeer as Sam Powell crossed the line to slam down a loose ball. An initial kick was batted down by a Saints defender, John Bateman kicked the ball into the path of Powell, who kicked it over the tryline, but Liam Moore and the video referee confirmed that he was offside.
The halftime break flew by and Wigan flew out of the blocks and caught the Saints napping. Another break from French down the wing saw the Aussie put the ball to boot, kicking the ball central and Bateman obliged by finishing the play with a try. Smith converted with ease and within three minutes of play resuming, Saints were down by ten points.
It didn’t take too long for Woolf’s side to respond, with Jack Welsby finding Joe Batchelor on the wing, who played a small kick for himself to run onto as he breezed through Field over the whitewash. Bennison couldn’t quite convert the extra two points, so Wigan remained a full six points away.
Welsby returned to haunt the Warriors next, capitalising on a rogue offload from Bateman and racing against French to the line before bouncing over to make it 10-12, with a little bounce of the ball on opposing try scorer French’s head to rub salt in the wound. Bennison failed to make the kick, so they remained behind but a try could change the game.
St Helens received a boost for the final 15 minutes, with Singleton getting sent off for a late high shot on Curtis Sironen, albeit with the Saints second rower on his way down as Singleton made his aggressive approach. Wigan had to dig deep for the final moments as Saints ramped up their efforts to snatch the win.
As if all hope seemed lost for Matty Peet’s men, up stepped their superstar duo of Field and French, combining on the final tackle in the 69th minute, Field kicking towards touch into the path of French, who collected, hopped over the tackle of Welsby and placed it down uncontested. Smith converted from a wide angle to keep his 100% conversion rate intact.
St James’ Park was a powder keg of tension, with fans waiting with baited breath for the next move of their opponent. Grace got in on the action, flying down the left wing to make it 16-18 with less than five minutes left. Bennison failed to convert but Lomax made sure that didn’t matter shortly after.
With a minute left on the clock, Batchelor charged forward with three options, dummied his way through Marshall and finds Lomax on the inside to win the game for Saints with less than a minute on the clock.
A failed attempt of a short kick from Smith ended the game as Wigan’s lack of discipline cost them in the end, falling in the final moments to a relentless Saints side that were on the rise the longer the game lasted.
Fans are in for a treat, as these two sides are clearly destined to meet again in the postseason, and expect the same kind of action whether it’s at Old Trafford or elsewhere.