Play-off specialists St Helens put themselves 80 minutes away from a seventh successive Grand Final appearance with an impressive 28-6 victory over Warrington at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.
Saints, who finished 3rd after the weekly rounds, started with Gary Wheeler in the centre to replace the absent Michael Shenton but welcomed back Sia Soliola into the squad, who went on to have a massive impact when he came off the bench.
The Wolves were missing Dream Team second-row, Ben Westwood along with fellow forward Ben Harrison but were still able to field a fomidable looking line-up for their opening play-off tie as they began their search for a Cup and Grand Final double.
And Warrington almost had the perfect start to the match, after an early mistake by Saints’ prop Josh Perry. Lee Briers’ kick to the ingoal area was palmed back and eventually touched down by Stefan Ratchford but the video referee confirmed that Simon Grix had knocked the ball forwards before it had found its way to Ratchford.
The frenetic first half was played at a hectic pace, with both sides making numerous handling errors as they looked unable to settle into the occasion. Saints had a period of pressure near the Wolves line but gave the ball away on several occasions.
Midway through the half, the Wolves’ forward contingent was depleted further when Garreth Carvell felt the effects of being twisted in heavy three-man tackle and had to leave the field in pain with a back spasm and was not to return which was a big blow to the home side.
However, Warrington did post the first points when a Briers and Richie Myler combined to put Brett Hodgson in space as the Aussie fullback dummied his way over before converting his own score for 6-0.
But after Saints forced a repeat set when Gary Wheeler’s chase trapped Hodgson in goal, they levelled the match. Jonny Lomax found Wilkin whose pass found Sia Solila on the angle to go over for Saints’ first.
Warrington made another handling error two minutes later, Trent Waterhouse’s offload knocked on by Michael Monaghan as they forced the issue. Soliola picked up the loose ball and produced a powerful run towards the line, fending off Ryan Atkins before timing the pass to Tommy Makinson for the young winger to put Saints ahead, his conversion making it 12-6.
Makinson had a shot at goal on the halftime hooter after Chris Riley obstructed him as he chased a kick but the attempt went wide and the gap remained at 6 for the break to end a pulsating half.
Ten minutes into the second half and Makinson scored his second try after a superbly worked Saints try. James Roby found Wilkin, whose quick short ball found Lomax in space on the right. The scrumhalf then fooled Hodgson with a dummy before finding Makinson who raced in to finish off the try to make it 16-6.
Warrington had a sustained period near the Saints line to try to get back in the game but the impressive Saints defence crucially held them out and Atkins’ pass to his winger Riley only found the touchline.
And another excellent try put the game in the bag for the Saints. Tony Puletua twisted and offloaded in the tackle to find Roby and Saints’ sole member of the Dream Team dummied and stepped his way towards the line and managed to beat 4 defenders to go over for a fantastic score to finish off the Challenge Cup holders.
And three minutes later Saints’ got their fifth when a Wellens pass deflected off Joel Monaghan to find its way to Francis Meli who dove over in the corner, with the video referee confirming there was no knock-on in the build-up to award the try, failing to notice a Meli foot hitting the touchline just before he grounded the ball.
The ruthless Saints defence continued to hold the increasingly desperate Warington team out until the fulltime hooter to keep the scoreline at 28-6 for the Saints to record a great victory.
The win means Saints will have next week off and play a home semi final at Langtree Park in a fortnight’s time in what will be a massive occasion which sees Saints’ new home host its first play-off fixture as Saints try to reach Old Trafford for the seventh consecutive year. Warrington will live to fight another day, and will be keen to see the return of some injured troops for their knock-out match at home next Saturday, which they must win now to proceed into the last 4.
Warrington: Hodgson, Riley, Ratchford, Atkins, J Monaghan, Briers, Myler, Morley, Higham, Hill, Waterhouse, Grix, McCarthy
Substitutes: M Monaghan, Carvell, Wood, Cooper
St Helens: Wellens, Makinson, Wheeler, J Jones, Meli, Hohaia, Lomax, Perry, Roby, Laffranchi, Puletua, Flanagan, Wilkin
Substitutes: Soliola, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Clough, Dixon
LSMedia Man of the Match: Sia Soliola (St Helens)
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield)
- The reigning Super League holders Leeds Rhinos managed to overcome the potential banana skin of Wakefield Trinity Wildcats and proceed to next week where they they will face Catalans Dragons in Perpignan. Rob Burrow’s second try edged Leeds ahead at 12-10 at halftime after Wakefield had taken the lead twice in the first half. The Wildcats put themselves back in front after the restart through Richie Mathers’ try before the Rhinos puled away with the next three tries to go 30-16 up. Former Leeds man Ali Lautiti put the scoreline back to 10 with 11 minutes on the clock and then had a golden opportunity to get back to 4 when Danny Washbrook broke through, only for his inside pass to find the floor as his team-mate had the line ahead of him. Leeds rubberstamped the win with a further two scores and will now prepare for their trip to France as they continue to embark on another challenge for Old Trafford.