1. Paul Atcheson, 14. Chris Smith, 18. Andy Haigh, 4. Paul Newlove, 5.
Anthony Sullivan, 20. Tommy Martyn, 7. Bobbie Goulding,
23. Brett Goldspink, 9. Keiron Cunningham, 15. Julian O'Neill, 11. Chris
Joynt, 13. Paul Sculthorpe, 6. Karle Hammond.
Interchange: 3. Sean Long, 8. Apollo Perelini, 10. Ian Pickavance, 25. Paul
Tries: Chris Smith, Keiron Cunningham
Goals: Bobbie Goulding 1
On this mild and bright day an untested yet confident Wigan team took to the
field at Central Park. The 17,179-crowd roared as the teams started the game.
Wigan's tactics were not at first evident, a short kick-off gave them possession
straight away. But they played hard one-man rugby for most of the first half. St
Helens played the faster and more flamboyant rugby, and it was relatively
mistake free. Wigan's unbreached defence so far in the cup was broken after 17
minutes as St Helens winger Sullivan evaded three would-be Wigan tackles in his
own half to soar along the touchline. He offloaded to wingman Chris Smith who
just stayed ahead of Radlinski to score under the posts. Goulding added the
conversion to give Saints a 6-0 lead and things heated up on the pitch.
Wigan defended to the last man and made some great individual breaks,
centre Danny Moore striding over to finish off a fine try. Farrell converted and
the half time score was 6 all. The game was evenly balanced. St Helens being
fast and creative, Wigan having that solid defence with Robinson always
threatening to break free, wriggling and jinking around the plays from dummy
half. Wigan's kicking game was also proving to be well ahead of the St Helens
game with Scum Half Smith and Loose forward Farrell both booting the ball into
the corner and forcing Saints full back Atcheson and Winger Sullivan to
persistently run back and chase the ball. Wigan's chase was also up to the task
and they managed to put pressure on St Helens many times.
masterstroke of a clean break for Wigan came just 7 minutes into the second half
when from a scrum on the Wigan 10 meter line Danny Moore, the big Australian
Centre, broke through the St Helens line and offloaded around the tackler to
send the supporting Robinson clear. Atcheson made a valiant effort to tackle
Robinson, but a swift and firm hand off saw Robinson break free to complete the
80 metre sprint with a fine and well deserved try. Farrell again converted and
Wigan led 12-6, the cup holders hit back with Sullivan crossing for a 53
rd-minute touchdown. Goulding found the woodwork of the crossbar with the
conversion, which he seems to have a habit of doing at Central Park. And the
score remained at 12-10.
But that wasn't the end of the story. Wigan
finished much the stronger side in the final 20 minutes and a bulldozing,
gritted effort from Great Britain forward Simon Haughton in the 68th minute
eventually broke the deadlock. Haughton collected a loose pass after Neil Cowie
lost control of the ball near the St Helens try line, and he used his
considerable strength to power past a couple of defenders. Sean Long's efforts
of hanging on to Haughton's legs for grim death was not enough to stop him, and
three more St Helens players grabbed at Haughton in vain and he stretched over
to put the ball down over the whitewash. That was surly the try that broke the
back of the game. Rugby league is a game of skill, tactics and fitness. But
sometimes it takes an individuals determination to inspire a team, and that's
what Haughton did. After that Wigan came on strong and St Helens seemed to tire.
The game was eventually killed off in the final few minutes as Wigan
were camped in the St Helens 20-meter area. The ball came back and Farrell lined
up for a drop goal. The St Helens players were expecting this, having missed two
drop goals themselves during the game from Goulding and Martin. The defence
moved up quickly and smothered Farrell who changed tactics, stood up in the
tackle and off-loaded to Tony Smith. Smith then stepped through three players
and twisted to pass a short ball to the waiting Dennis Betts who marched over to
score a welcome home try at his old club. Betts had many memories of Central
park and this was a magical moment in a match packed with incident and drama
that brought back memories of the glory days at Central Park when Betts left for
Auckland 3 years ago. The try sent the crowd wild and the St Helens fans
marching for the exits. For Wigan were in the ascendancy and would never
relinquish the lead now.
Dennis Betts said, "It's a dream come true
coming back into the side. A couple of weeks ago I wasn't down to start playing
until the start of the Super League season," said Betts, who has been fighting
to recover from a shoulder reconstruction. I wanted to play. I had a word with
the coach, he said 'no' and I spent the week trying to convince him that I was
right to play, because games do not come bigger than this and I just wanted to
be part of it. I would say we are favourites but there are a lot of other good
sides out there,"
Coach John Monie was happy just to concentrate on
Wigan's much-improved second-half display and insisted success in the Cup would
not be taken for granted, despite the removal of their main
"I thought before today that we did not want to slip into
the Castleford trap, where we get a lot of pats on the back and then go out and
get ambushed in the next game. There will be no chance of that here," he
Saints captain Bobbie Goulding admitted that his side had been
beaten by the better team. "The lads worked very hard for 60 minutes, but Wigan
were too strong in the end," he said.
For coach Shaun McRae, it was his
first taste of defeat in the Challenge Cup following 12 successive wins, but he
was quick to praise his conquerors.
"Our dressing-room is a bit solemn,
because we went in with fairly high expectations," said McRae. "We started with
a lot of confidence and it showed in the first half. I thought the score of 6-6
at half time was a fair indication, but we made far too many errors in the
second half. You've got to give credit where credit is due, you can't win
everything and if you're going to get beat, it's not too bad when you're beaten
by a better side. I think you saw two very good football teams out there and
we've proved that we can match them. I don't think the final margin of 12 points
was a fair reflection of the game."
"It's Wigan's cup now. There's not a
team left in the competition that can live with Wigan," admitted
St Helens suffered the loss of forward and inspirational Captain
Chris Joynt and hooker Cunningham with injuries during the game. Goulding
commanded the side well from the back, but it was never destined to be St
Helens' day. It was Wigan's day and the home crowd knew it. It will hardly be
remembered as a classic game of rugby, but it was tense and exciting. Referee
Cummings allowed both teams to stray offside and lie on for too long in the
tackles to keep the game going with the pace it could have. But he was applying
the same rules, or not as the case may be, to both sides and as such some
strange decisions went both ways and evened out in the end. The penalty count
was surprisingly low for a local derby match between the two teams, which is
probably a true reflection of the good discipline shown by both sides.
Wigan, who won at Wembley eight times in a row up to 1995, will be joined in
this evening's semi-final draw by last year's beaten semi-finalists Salford and
new kids on the block London Broncos and Sheffield Eagles, both on uncharted