Reigning Super League champions St
Helens turned the tables on their arch rivals in sensational style to stun
a JJB Stadium record crowd of 19,186 and book a return to Old Trafford.
A fortnight after going down 42-4 in a seven-try hammering at Knowsley
Road, Ian Millward's men ran in nine touchdowns to secure a second
successive Grand Final appearance.
Wigan, who earned the easier route to Old Trafford by finishing top of
the table, must now play a final eliminator against the winners of
Saturday's semi-final between Bradford and Leeds to claim a re-match with
the cock-a-hoop neighbours.
Saints were unrecognisable from the side that was humiliated a
fortnight ago and former Wigan scrum-half Sean Long more than made up for
his nightmare that night with a personal haul of 26 points.
Saints were inspired by the dazzling hands of Long and the probing runs
of loose forward Paul Sculthorpe and hooker Keiron Cunningham as their big
guns fired with devastating effect.
Wigan, fresh from a week's break, made a dream start, with skipper Andy
Farrell cutting through the visitors' defence deep inside his own half
after only two minutes and hooker Terry Newton carrying the move on for
Steve Renouf to finish decisively.
Newton, apparently not healthy enough to play for England in the World
Cup, was outstanding in some smart approach work but Wigan, who could do
no wrong at Knowsley Road, spoiled the good work with a series a
uncharacteristic handling errors.
Long and Sculthorpe were prominent in the move that led to winger Steve
Hall taking Kevin Iro's short pass to cross for his side's first try just
two minutes after replacing injured centre Paul Newlove. Long added a
magnificent touchline conversion and was also on target when Cunningham
raced over from acting half-back for a trademark try on 28 minutes.
A 12-6 lead was no more than Saints deserved and it got even better in
first-half injury time when left-winger Anthony Sullivan collected a high
kick from Wigan scrum-half Willie Peters and raced in for a glorious
If Wigan were surprised by Saints' first-half onslaught, they were
shook rigid by their start to the second period.
Just three minutes into the re-start, the Warriors line was subjected
to intense pressure and it finally told when Iro took Long's pass from
dummy half to cross wide out.
Long then supported a break by Fereti Tuilagi to score Saints' fifth
try, to which he added his fifth goal.
Trailing 30-6, Wigan clearly had to take risks if they were to stage a
comeback and it proved their undoing on 52 minutes when Farrell lost
possession on the Saints 20-metre line and Iro quickly turned defence into
Long supported his break through a fragmented defence and Sullivan took
it on for Tommy Martyn to finish off at the corner for another sensational
score to thrill the 5,000 visiting fans.
Substitute Tony Smith pulled a try back for Wigan on 56 minutes, to
which Farrell added his second goal, and Renouf grabbed his second try 10
minutes later but Saints finished in total command.
Iro and Long both claimed their second tries in the final quarter, one
of them after a comedy of errors in the Wigan defence, and Sean Hoppe also
Fittingly, Long had the final say when he put over an injury-time
penalty to take his goal tally to nine from 10 attempts.