St Helens did what
Wigan's team sheet always suggested they would do at Knowsley Road
yesterday by becoming the game's unofficial winter champions.
Wigan were still without the players who missed the first leg of the
Norweb Winter Challenge on Boxing Day and, most damagingly, without their
captain, Andy Farrell, as well.
It was to the credit of a young and relatively
inexperienced side that they clung on to the remnants of their 10-point lead
from that first game for as long as they did and only went behind on
aggregate for the first time 13 minutes into the second half.
St Helens, close to full strength as well as relishing
home advantage, scored the only try of a lacklustre first quarter, Apollo
Perelini going over for the first of his two tries after Bobbie Goulding's
kick had put
Wigan under pressure.
The contest came alive with a brilliant try by each side
within a couple of minutes. First
Wigan's outstanding player, the mercurial Sean Long, started a move
that ended with Danny Ellison scoring.
Saints responded with one even better, Chris Morley and
Paul Newlove making the running for Anthony Sullivan to go over.
When Steve Prescott's tackle knocked the ball out of the
hand of his opposite number, Doc Murray, to claim the try, the running
totals were neatly level at half-time.
Wigan, despite losing Steve Barrow and Ellison with injuries that
further stacked the odds against them, were not ready to bow to the
inevitable yet, Long and Kris Radlinski linking superbly for Paul Johnson to
claim their second try.
The rest, however, was all St Helens. Goulding, whose
resoration to the side proved as crucial as Farrell's absence, fooled
Wigan by running and scoring on the sixth tackle and Perelini then
took a reverse pass from Hammond for his second try.
A delayed pass from Tommy Martyn sent Vila Matautia
powering over, Alan Hunte scored after Goulding had kicked straight from a
scrum and Hammond rounded off the try-scoring from close range.
As Martyn said, "It's good even to beat
Wigan at dominoes," so to deprive them of this pounds 15,000 purse as
well as last year's Challenge Cup and Championship made the whole exercise
more than worthwhile for Saints.
The only sobering point was that one of their best
performers, Prescott, is on the transfer list after failing to agree new
terms and that the club could be heading for similar problems with Goulding.
It has been a good winter; the test will be how well St
Helens hold the whole thing together in the summer.