St Helens dampened Wigan’s League Leaders Shield celebrations somewhat with a 26-18 victory against the 12-men Warriors at the DW Stadium in a pulsating derby encounter. The win gives Saints third place, meaning that they travel to second-placed Warrington in the first round of the play-offs next Saturday, whilst Wigan will host either the Catalans or Leeds depending on results over the weekend.
The biggest talking point from the game was Wigan hooker Michael McIlorum’s 15th minute sending off for a late high challenge on Anthony Laffranchi, which will give the Warriors a nervous midweek appointment with the disciplinary panel ahead of the start of the play-offs.
Wigan, who had already secured top spot last Sunday after producing a record comeback in the Super League era at Hull KR, started with prop forward Stuart Fielden, making his first appearance of the year. Saints welcomed back Michael Shenton from a two-week injury lay-off but powerful second-row Sia Soliola and Chris Flannery missed out. Both sides’ kits adorned with references to the Joining Jack charity, of which the Wigan club and the sport of rugby league have been huge ambassadors in awareness of four-year old Jack Johnson, who suffers from a Duchene Muscular Dystrophy, a muscle-wasting disease for which there is currently no cure.
The match began with Saints dominating the early stages before the Warriors opened the scoring against the run of play. Despite Saints’ territory, a pressure-relieving penalty resulted in Thomas Leuluai sauntering over for the first try. The New Zealander, who returned to the Wigan side last week after a three-month due to an injury picked up for the Exiles in June, dummied and ran his way around Tony Puletua to go over untouched to put Wigan up. Pat Richards, another recent returner from injury banged over the goal for 6-0.
However, five minutes later the defining moment came when McIlorum’s late high shot on Laffranchi after the Saints prop had released the ball received its inevitable punishment when referee James Child brandished the red card. McIlorum was sent off in a 48-12 loss to Saints four years ago and had already seen red on one occasion earlier this season.
Saints, who had failed to show composure in attack, putting the ball down near the Wigan line on several occasions finally were able to make the pressure pay in the 23rd minute when James Roby took a fine offload from Puletua and forced his way over. Tommy Makinson’s goal levelling the scores.
Saints continued on the front foot with a Jon Wilkin kick causing havoc forcing a repeat set. And the vistors had the lead with a brilliantly worked try for Makinson in the corner. With the ball passed right with great speed and accuracy near the Wigan line, Shenton sucked in the defenders and offloaded out to his winger Makinson who managed to ground the ball under pressure in the corner. After the video referee confirmed the try the young winger converted his own score to give Saints a 6 point advantage.
A Jon Wilkin kick out on the full put Saints under pressure just before halftime, with the Warriors, renowned for scoring right before halftime, enjoying repeat sets in the Saints half. However they unable to break the St Helens defence and the scoreline remained at 12-6 for the break.
The first minute of the second half saw Wilkin penalised for a ball steal and from that Wigan had the momentum. One minute later Pat Richards squeezed over in the corner from captain Sean O’Loughlin’s cut-out pass from dummy half. Richard’s touchline goal making it 12-12 with Saints scrumhalf Jonny Lomax taken off temporarily after feeling the effects of his attempts to stop Richards scoring.
Saints had an opportunity soon after from a break from Josh Jones but the centre surprisngly opted to kick the ball on the first tackle. Although Saints recovered the ball Hohai’s pass went straight to a Wigan man for Wigan to counter and the chance had gone.
The Warriors were putting Saints under heavy pressure, with the kicking game from Saints proving ineffective. However, the trend was broken in the 58th minute when Andrew Dixon’s try put Saints ahead. The chance came after clever defensive play from Shenton, who pulled Sam Tomkins’ arm causing the fullback’s pass to go astray. George Carmont hacked at the loose ball but Saints retrieved the ball and Puletua dummied his way through the gap before offloading out to Dixon who ran in and grounded the ball despite Charnley’s last-dicth effort. Makinson missed the goal but Saints had the 16-12 lead and had weathered the storm.
Wigan had another chance in Saints’ territory after another mistake from Wilkin and received a penalty after Joh Perry elbowed Jeff Lima on the ground. However, the St Helens defence held firm with Richards forced into touch as the Warriors desperately flung it wide on the last.
And the killer blow came against the tiring 12-man Wigan when Josh Jones finished off another fine move to stretch the lead to 20-12. Another offload from Puletua gave Saints space with the ball moved through Lomax and Hohaia with the stand-off putting the young centre over.
With Wigan penalised from the restart for a high shot, Saints added the icing with another try with Roby’s long pass putting Lomax in space with a one-two with McCartthy-Scarscbrook putting the scrumhalf over beneath the sticks for 26-12.
Sam Tomkins grabbed a consolation in the closing stages, following up his own grubber kick but Saints had already done enough to earn a deserved first derby win over Wigan for 2012, following three defeats earlier in the season.
Wigan did receive the League Leaders Shield after the match on the bittersweet night but the result may serve as a caution to those tipping a Wigan-Warrington Grand Final already as the business part of the season now comes upon us.
Super League XVII Round Twenty-seven results:
Wigan Warriors 18-26 St Helens
London Broncos 48-42 Hull KR
Catalans Dragons 50-26 Bradford Bulls
Hull FC 36-10 Castleford Tigers
Salford City Reds 34-42 Wakefield Trinity Wildcats (played at Leigh Sports Village)
Huddersfield Giants 48-24 Leeds Rhinos
Widnes Vikings 14-52 Warrington Wolves