Champions St Helens held
off a brave effort by their arch rivals to extend their winning
run in derby matches to eight games and open up a two-point lead
in the engage Super League.
The Warriors were dealt a
devastating blow with the early loss of Great Britain prop Stuart
Fielden with concussion but they rallied to run the leaders close
in a tense, hard-fought clash at Knowsley Road.
Fielden could be doubtful for next week's Challenge Cup
semi-final against Catalans Dragons while Saints were handed a
potential disciplinary headache when hooker Keiron Cunningham was
put on report for an alleged swinging arm on Wigan full-back Pat
Saints looked set to continue their derby domination after
tries from Jason Cayless and Francis Meli gave them a 10-0 lead
after 12 minutes but Wigan gradually clawed their way back into
Full-back Pat Richards struck in the last play of the first
half to keep the match in the balance and the champions were
forced to defend for long periods before securing a precious
victory courtesy of a late drop goal from comeback hero Sean Long.
Saints coach Daniel Anderson, who has yet to experience defeat
in a derby, had cheekily suggested Wigan were the pre-match
favourites after beating Leeds and Bradford in their two previous
matches but it looked like mind games after his side made an
The game was held up for four-and-a-half minutes while Fielden
received treatment on the field after knocking himself out trying
to stop a typical strong run from St Helens front rower Nick
Fielden's replacement Paul Prescott then hobbled off after 17
minutes, by which time Wigan were trailing 10-0 and looking in
Saints opened the scoring after seven minutes with a rare try
from prop Cayless, who took a pass from Cunningham to plunge over
the line after Leon Pryce had scooped up a loose ball on the Wigan
Makeshift marksman Paul Wellens added the easy conversion and
the champions stretched their lead five minutes later when
Cunningham supported James Roby's clean break and sent winger Meli
over for a try to celebrate his new three-year contract.
Long, who started the match on the bench, went on after 24
minutes for only his second appearance in 10 weeks and eight
minutes later Australian loose forward Chris Flannery, who was
making a comeback from a broken leg, went on for his debut.
Wigan's only serious threat came from the boot of stand-off
Trent Barrett and neither Saints winger looked comfortable under
the high ball.
The home defence lived dangerously until the last minute of the
half when Richards read Barrett's kick to perfection to touch down
under the crossbar, despite a suspicion of a knock-on.
Richards added the goal to cut the deficit to just four points
and he almost scored again in the opening moments but video
referee Ian Smith this time ruled he failed to ground the ball.
Long was wide with an ambitious 45-metre penalty kick at goal
but then succeeded with a 40-20 punt that set up the position for
St Helens' third try.
Pryce was quick to seize on possession when Wigan captain Sean
O'Loughlin lost the ball in Flannery's crunching tackle 20 metres
from his own line and the stand-off jinked his way unopposed to
Long kicked the conversion and added a penalty on the hour to
make it 18-6 after Wigan's former Saints hooker Micky Higham was
pulled up for a high tackle on James Graham.
Richards added to Wigan's injury woes when he was involved in a
clash with Keiron Cunningham and had to be helped from the field,
although he managed to return for the last 12 minutes.
Wigan battled to the end and centre Darrell Goulding ensured a
tense finish when he grabbed a 66th-minute try courtesy of another
Barrett 'bomb' and O'Loughlin landed the difficult conversion.
Long was twice off target with drop-goal attempts before
eventually finding the mark to seal victory.