Elland Road hosted the top contenders for all the silverware on offer this season, as Wigan Warriors defeated St Helens 20-18 on the day.
Wigan got us underway kicking towards the Don Revie stand, with it taking just over two minutes for the first points scored of the day. Wigan capitalised on a catching error from Saints youngster Josh Simm, and after some adventurous passing, Jake Bibby’s break past Jack Welsby found Liam Marshall in enough space to cross the whitewash in the corner. Harry Smith failed with his first conversion of the day, pulling it just wide.
The quality shined throughout the first ten minutes of play, with St Helens having maintained pressure on Wigan’s defence, a key moment being a run on fifth from Konrad Hurrell in the corner, before Jai Field forced a knock on with a superb try-saving tackle, displaying the Australian’s impressive defence as well as offence. Saints’ winger Tommy Makinson appeared to struggle with an injury that left him walking tenderly, but that wouldn’t stop a veteran like himself.
If ever there was a moment to sum-up these two sides came in the 16th minute, as St Helens seemed to open up the Wigan defence with fast hands, before an errant pass saw Bevan French pounce on a loose ball, cover over 80 metres before being taken down by the chasing Jack Welsby in a display of the never-die determination that these St Helens stars have in abundance. Second-rower Joe Batchelor prevented a quick play of the ball and thus received a yellow card to see him spend ten minutes in the sin-bin.
For all of the praise you can throw at St Helens’ defence, it was in vain, as the resulting set of six saw Warriors stand-off Cade Cust get over the line for a second try for the Cherry and Whites.
St Helens veteran Jonny Lomax was shaking his arms after 25 minutes, after being in the wars for most of the game so far, and reportedly suffering from a bicep injury before the first whistle even got us underway. With him filling in at fullback, Wigan targeted the 31-year-old when kicking on the last tackle to try and wear him down, but to little effect.
Just a minute before the half hour mark, Wigan’s talisman in Liam Farrell brought his trademark quick feet to the fore, making a try out of the embers of a dying final tackle. A Lomax slip gifted Farrell enough room to cross the tryline unopposed, and Liam Smith followed up with his first successful conversion of the afternoon.
The reigning Super League champions came closest to the line after a kick from Lomax found Mark Percival in the air, who came just merely metres away from getting over the line for Saints first try of the game, but three Wigan players managed to snatch him away from the line in time.
The first half certainly belonged to the Warriors, who dominated from start to finish with some staunch defending on their try line as well as some great individual efforts to see them lead by 14 points to nil.
Saints started the better in the second half, and some tough tackling paid off as Konrad Hurrell, a thorn in the side of Wigan just a few weeks ago in their Good Friday clash, dashed to the line from a Jack Welsby short pass and slammed the ball down amidst four Wigan defenders. Tommy Makinson hit the perfect kick from the byline to make it 14-6 and Saints were back in the game.
The try served as a catalyst for fast, powerful plays and they followed it up with another try, Jonny Lomax getting on the end of his own kick thanks to Tommy Makinson slapping the ball back towards his fullback. Akin to the other kind of footy we saw earlier this week, it takes just mere minutes for a lead to collapse. Makinson made it 2/2 and Saints were within two points of the Warriors who were running away with it in the first half.
St Helens just kept upping the ante, and after such a dismal first half display, James Roby took on Bateman and Field at the line and used his momentum to overpower the backs to snatch the lead back from Warriors. A 15 minute period of domination from the Saints, showing why the team has won so many trophies in recent years.
No matter what they did, Wigan couldn’t keep up. The following set saw a knock-on and then a gift of a penalty for a Saints side that were rampant and ready to extend their lead. A break down the line from Farrell ended in a familiar knock-on, and the theme continued for Wigan.
Against the run of play, a rare handling error from Saints gifted Liam Marshall a free run at the whitewash from his own 40 metre line, and he took the gift up with ease. Makinson and Percival didn’t quite have the same recovery speed of Jack Welsby to catch Wigan’s shoe-in for man of the match who put it under the sticks to allow Harry Smith to easily convert and return Wigan’s two point advantage.
The final ten minutes were a cacophony of wild plays, with both sides trying all their set plays to try and break down the opposition and get any points they could on the board. Both sides threw the kitchen sink, and it was Wigan who managed to force two sets of six tackles with just 3 minutes on the board, and it was just enough to give them the win. Saints final flourish involved solo efforts and a Konrad Hurrell pass out of play as they came up short in the end.
Wigan proceed through to their first Challenge Cup final since 2017, with Matty Peet’s men surely the favourites at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, and bringing the first trophy back to the DW for the first time since Shaun Wane left the club. Saints return back to the North West with a dent in the armour but will no doubt want revenge when the pair meet again on July 9th.
*18+ | BeGambleAware
Picture courtesy of swpix.com