Well walking into Knowsley road isn't exactly a pleasure
because the game is always a real nail biter and the shouting required as
a visiting fan is twice that expected than at a home game, mainly because
there are less of us than at a home game. The travelling Wigan fans didn't
disappoint on the shouting front, even when Wigan went behind to Saints,
twice. The noise from behind the sticks was impressive and the Merseyside
crowd didn't have any reply to the Wigan noise except when they welcomed
the sides onto the field.
The game started at great pace and both sets of players were up for this
one, even if referee Presley wasn't, but more of that later. Halfback Tony
Smith came to life in the game, spreading the ball out wide, side-stepping
through to create breaks and running along the Saints line. Florimo was
impressive even with the Saints forwards, Betts had another powerful game
and is certainly getting better over the last three games. Forwards Cowie
and Mestrov held their ground against a bigger Saints pack, and Kris
Radlinski was solid at full back and tackled well to keep Saints from
breaking through to score. Cassidy made his usual hard tackling
contribution and Robinson was eager to find space and run from dummy half
at every opportunity.
Farrell was kept out of the side after a late fitness test and the kicking
duties were handled by wing man/stand off Phil Jones. Jones made some
great contributions to the game not least kicking 3 from three in the
first half. He kicked a great goal from the right hand touchline that saw
Wigan go into the half time break in the lead. To be honest Wigan were the
better side in the first half, but then I would say that. And had it not
been for Referee Presley Wigan would have gone in more points in the lead
than they did.
So let's get back to the game. Wigan kicked off and Saints took the ball
back upfield. And as you can expect the early exchanges were furious, with
both sides wanting an early score to unsettle their opponents. Wigan
looked as solid as ever in defence, but in attack they looked sharper and
supported each other better than in previous games. Jon Clark was looking
good at hooker and tackled hard enough the sometimes hurt the attacking St
Helens runner. The first try was a real gem for Wigan, but not before they
had suffered several high shots and punches in the tackles, all of which
went unpunished in the name of letting the game flow. St Helens almost
struck first after Tommy Martyn popped up a high ball and Jones ignored
the shouts of Radlinski as they both went for the ball, they both dropped
it and Martyn chased the loose ball. Fortunately Jones was alter enough to
kick the ball dead in goal to save face.
As Wigan moved up field they broke the Saints line courtesy of a big hit
on Chris Smith by Danny Moore, which caused Smith to drop the ball, and
gave Wigan possession. Wigan kept Saints down in their own half and
regained the ball after a set of six tackles. The next set of six saw
Wigan make some good ground via the forwards. Then Florimo slipped the
ball back inside on a run around move to Tony Smith, who then raced
through to open to the saints line, Cowie was in support when then
selfishly handed the ball over the faster Radlinski who gratefully
accepted the try on the 10 minute mark. Some may say Cowie should have
made sure of the try and touch down himself, but it showed he was thinking
and unselfish in given the ball over the Radlinski, who has a great pair
of hands and was in little danger of dropping the pass from his prop
forward. Jones converted his first kick from near the posts.
Wigan's kick and chase game was excellent, with the Saints players taking
the high balls facing the evening sun. Wigan put pressure on the Saints
players collecting the ball. Saint Helens didn't drop the intensity of
attack even though Wigan were coming out on top of the early exchanges.
Long found space to run along the Wigan line many time and was good at
breaking away, but quite often didn't have any runners to support him in
open play. Cunningham made some good breaks from dummy half and always
looked sure on the ball. Martyn was creative and almost got a try from a
chip and chase, only to be correctly denied by the video referee for
dropping the ball over the line whilst fending off Wigan Centre Danny
Moore and Kris Radlinski. Martyn was on side for the kick through from
Long, but the crunch tackling from Wigan saved the day again, and Martyn
wanting the fend off Moore.
Wigan tackled well and managed to tie up Tuilagi and Newlove without much
fear. Saints did push and interfere in almost every tackle and yet again
the officials did little to clean up this area, even though there was a
directive at the start of the season that the RFL officials would clean up
this particular area. So no surprise then the first offside penalty of the
game went to Saints in the Wigan 20-metere area. Another good aspect of
Wigan's play was the hard running and the effort made to keep the ball
alive. The next points came from a Phil Jones kicked penalty when Joynt
was standing off the mark and interfered with play as Connolly tried to
play the ball quickly from a tackle.
Well what a lot from the first 20-minutes it was at Knowsley safari park
for both sets of fans. It was end to end stuff and exciting every minute
of the way. It was worth the 9 pounds entrance fee to see Wigan play so
well. But a momentary lapse in concentration saw the creative Martyn chip
through to the post and dip through both Cassidy and Radlinski's cover
movement to score. Long made a meal of the conversion from right in front
of the posts, but eventually decided he would kick it rather than wait for
Saints picked up the pace after that and had a spell of better play. As
the stormed the Wigan line a High kick was dropped by Jones and Tuilagi
failed to gather the loose ball. From the scrum the ball was passed left
from the line to the posts to Newlove and the stepped through to score. He
held off Betts and Mestrov in his effort and Long again converted. It was
12-8 to St Helens now courtesy of two tries in 3 minutes from St Helen's.
But as half time approached Wigan held out and came back well at a now
confident Saints. From a mistake, which saw Moore take the ball from a
loose pass by Tuilagi. Haughton gained more ground for Wigan with a
storming run. Wigan swept the ball right across the field, and when
Connolly made the break and outpaced the pedestrian Newlove, Robinson was
right on hand to pick up the inside flicked pass and sprint over the line
with a hop out of a tackle by Joynt. Wigan finished the half in control
and very much on the attack, with Sullivan saving a tackle after a grubber
kick from Smith was not cleared properly first time and Sullivan had to
drop on the loose ball to deny the try. After half time both side came out
fighting for the ball, and in Saints case quite literally fighting in each
tackle to try and unsettle Wigan. But Wigan was up to the challenge and
toughed it out and certainly gave as good as they got. It was a very tough
game and Wigan needed to stick at the task at hand. This they did with
great form, but not without some awful decisions against then from referee
Presley. I'll give a few examples, Haughton was interfered with when
playing the ball, and the referee ignored the penalty for Wigan. Newlove
was tackled by Connolly and got up and played on. It should have been a
penalty to Wigan, but Presley waved play on. Perelini lost the ball in the
tackle and knocked on. Saints got the penalty and long kicked it to even
the scores. Chris Smith tried the play the ball whilst down on one knee,
Betts came in and Saints got a penalty, which should have gone to Wigan.
Wigan survived this upsurge by Saints and Presley and after Connolly
cleared up a loose ball from behind the Wigan posts, Robinson made a great
50-metre break down field. All of this simply fuelled the Wigan fans
shouts and the Wigan team rose to the occasion. Martyn replied with a
40-20 kick and put Wigan under pressure. But strong defence by Wigan
denied Saints any points.
As the players tired the gaps started to open up and both sets of backs
enjoyed some fine play. Wigan dropped the ball in their own half and
Perelini raced downfield. They played the ball and few seconds later
Cunningham dove over the line, despite three Wigan tacklers in attendance.
Long missed the kick and we heard a rare increase in volume from the home
fans as they sensed a victory was looking likely for their team. Saints
captain Joynt was denied a try as the put the ball down on the back line.
That was the signal for Wigan the hit back and was a turning point in the
game. Wigan bounded downfield and as Tony Smith chipped through into space
St Helens prop Paul Davidson impeded Smith and took him out after the
kick. Davidson was despatched to the sin bin and was really lucky not to
get a red card, which was another of those dubious decisions by Presley
that was incorrect in many supporters' eyes. But the difference between a
red and yellow card is subjective and more to do with which side of the
East Lancashire road you come from rather than what actually happened.
During Davidson's time in the sin bin Wigan went on the attack. Reeber
chipped through and as Cunningham took him out off the ball. Moore and
Jones tackled Chris Smith in touch and Wigan ran the ball back after the
drop pout from Saints. Wigan played the ball up the middle and Smith timed
a perfect pass into the hands of the charging Haughton, and he raced the
final 20-metre leaving 5 Saints players eating grass behind him.
Saints second half tactics seemed to be that on the 5th or sixth tackle
they would kick to Phil Jones Wing. But Jones was more that up to the
task. Saints started to get frustrated and Perellini swung his arm at
O'Connor in a tackle, but luckily for Terry his Missed. Next Gilmour was
penalised for not playing the ball properly, when in fact Tommy Martyn
pushed Gilmour off the ball as he played it. Perellini led into a tackle
with the elbow, nearly taking off Houghton's head, and surprise surprise
no penalty to Wigan and play on with Saints in possession. Next Davidson
reefed out the ball from Moore in a two-man tackle and that put Wigan in a
commanding field position. O'Connor drove the ball into the Saints defence
and played the ball to Clarke. Cassidy ran the ball right and took the
tackle. There looked to be nothing on at this point, until Clarke played
the ball to the charging Connolly on an angled run. He fended off
Perellini and Davidson and once he had broken through the defence there
was little that full back Atchison could do to prevent the try.
With only four minutes now remaining Saints tried the short kick-off, but
it didn't fall their way and Wigan got possession. They played out their
set of six and Smith very cleverly kicked for touch to eat up the time.
Saints tried to charge up field and the thinking Connolly took the ball
from Long in a one-man tackle, Cassidy had let go in the tackle at the
time Connolly took the ball. And guess what, yes Presley gave Saints a
penalty. Luckily Saints dropped the ball on and with only 20-Seconds to go
Wigan were in no hurry to play the ball and as the final 5 seconds were
counted down by the Wigan fans it time to start to celebrate.
Luckily all of the dubious decisions didn't sway the game Saints way but
with such a close game it could well have made a difference and Wigan
could have seen this game slip from their grasp, just as in last weeks
loss against Leeds. But that's another story we don't have time to tell
here.. Wigan fully deserved the win and got the much-needed two league
points to keep their Grand Final hopes alive. New coach Andy Goodway was
probably more responsible for lifting the team spirit rather than changing
the tactics set down by John Monie over the previous weeks. It would be
hard for any coach the change the team's style of play in just six days,
but from this showing the Wigan team were definitely in a attacking mood
without sacrificing any of their defensive qualities, and this is just
what was needed to lift their game. Mark Reeber seemed to twist his arm in
the tackle and if it is broken may be out for up to six weeks. Apart from
that Wigan escaped this ferocious encounter injury free, they just had the
scars of war.
St Helens:- P Atcheson; C Smith, F Tuilagi, P
Newlove, A Stewart; T Martyn, S Long; J O'Neill, K Cunningham, P Davidson,
T Jonkers, A Perelini, C Joynt.
Subs:- A Sullivan, V Matautia, M Edmundson, P Wellens.
Tries: Martyn, Newlove, Cunningham.
Goals: Long (3)
Wigan:- K Radlinski; J Robinson, D Moore, G
Connolly, P Jones; G Florimo, T Smith; N Cowie, J Clarke, T O'Connor, D
Betts, M Cassidy, L Gilmour.
Subs:- T Mestrov, M Reber, A Johnson, S Haughton
Tries: Radlinski, Robinson, Haughton, Connolly.