|Was a very emotional 80 minutes for me today after my Grandfather passed away just yesterday at the age of 91. He was a big Wigan follower and would often reminisce about travelling to Leeds in knee deep snow and of the great post war era when the likes of Tommy Bradshaw, Ken Gee and Johnny Lawrenson (who also passed away this week) played in Cherry & White. It was him taking me to Central Park as a child that got me into following Wigan RL, so on a personal note today's victory was extra special. Really proud of the effort from our boys today.|
So why did we win? Quite simple, we only made 5 handling errors all game. Considering the rainy conditions that was a great effort!
Saints in comparison made 15 handling errors. Part due to good Wigan defence and part due to lack of composure. To me, St Helens today looked like this current Wigan side before Michael Maguire started coaching them. They looked desperate, lacking in leadership, struggling for pace and if Eastmond didn't cause problems, no one did.
Having said that I don't think Wigan had the best of days with their kicking game, but we just did enough when it mattered.
Defensively we were outstanding. Saints fans said their pack would run over us but it wasn't really the case. Both sides put in some massive hits.
At the end of the day we would have lost that game last year. Under immense pressure on our line, we would have cracked easily but today it took a sin binning to allow Saints to get back into the game. 13 v 13 we did not concede a point.
Story of the match - Well, Wigan started well with a good touching finding clearance kick from Sam Tomkins in the 1st minute. I was hoping this would be a sign of things to come but Saints cottoned on to that and made sure their wingers got back to defend kicks.
First Wigan opportunity came in the 5th minute after Francis Meli was said to have knocked on in his own half. A penalty then followed after Jon Wilkin was accused of ball stealing and Wigan took the two with a penalty from Richards.
On the back of that, Saints had a good spell of territory with the help of three penalties from referee Ben Thaler. Keiron Cunningham was held up on the line, flung the ball back and Sam Tomkins reacted first to claim possession.
Saints got straight back on the attack after a poor last tackle kick from Leuluai. It gave them a turnover on half way but on the last Chris Dean was denied a try with good tackling from Darrell Goulding.
14 minutes - Saints knock on half way, and Wigan almost take advantage. Richards charged down the right wing and tried to take three men over the line with him, but he just got held short. Good last tackle kick from Sam Tomkins caused problems but O'Loughlin couldn't take a bouncing ball which would have seen him go under the sticks. Next attack another good kick from Tomkins just beat everyone in the in goal.
Soon after it was Saints turn to cause problems with a kick. Kyle Eastmond put the bomb up, it held in the wind, and went straight into the arms of Dean but four Wigan defenders scrambled back to stop him.
A high tackle from O'Loughlin on Leon Pryce got Saints on the attack again, but Wigan continued to hold firm. This despite a good kick from Eastmond forcing a drop out. Saints ended up being penalised for offside.
Leuluai though again handed the initiative back to Saints with a forward pass. I can recall bemoaning continuous poor play from Leuluai in one of last year's visits to Knowsley Road and again, for me, he was disappointing today. You need tactical leadership in the halves and I'm not sure Leuluai provides this.
Wigan then lost George Carmont to a knee injury on 25 minutes. The contest looked to be heading to half time in stalemate, with the teams having cancelled each other out with hardly any clean breaks being achieved. It needed a smart bit of play to turn the tide and it came in the 28th minute.
Eamon O'Carroll had knocked on 20 metres from his own line, under a tackle from James Graham. The whole ground expected another Saints attack at Wigan's line but it ended up the other way round. Wigan pushed at the scrum and ended up on the break away with Sean O'Loughlin. Defence scrambled back but only to concede a penalty. Tapping it, a scrappy pass towards the right wing went to ground but ricocheted towards the try line and Goulding pounced to score. Video Ref Phil Bentham awarded it and a huge touchline conversion from Richards make it 8-0. Goulding is technically a back up player but that's his 8th try in 6 matches this season.
Wigan were now on the front foot and a knock on by Maurie Fa'asavalu got them attacking the line. Jon Wilkin conceded a high tackle penalty to help our cause, as did a back to one in the left corner, before a second penalty conceded by Wilkin, saw Wigan punish.
Feka Paleaaesina returned to the first team today (replacing injured Andy Coley) after missing the last three matches. He did well when he came on and running from a tap penalty 5 metres out, he ran over Wilkin, Fa'asavalu and Roby to score. Richards conversion made it 14-0 and that's how it remained until half time.
The start of the second half was also crucial to this victory. We all knew Saints would come out stronger but Wigan took a valuable four minutes off the clock by winning the ball from the kick off. It hung in the wind and Fielden batted it back to Feka. Saints eventually conceded a penalty right under the sticks to give Pat an easy two points at 16-0.
After that it was pretty much all Saints attack but Wigan's defence was holding up very firm. In the 46th minute referee Thaler sin binned Amos Roberts for a silly interference right under the posts. Stupid play!
During his ten minute absence Saints scored twice. Moments after his yellow card, James Roby was held up under great defence by Richards. That decision had gone to the video referee and Wigan were caught cold after the NO TRY had been flashed on the screen. Quick play the ball saw Eastmond kick to the right wing and Gardner had a walk in try with no defender near him. Conversion off the touchline made it 16-6.
Memories of the trip to Bradford last month immediately flooded to my head, and probably the players as well, but in fairness we didn't mentally collapse. Tony Puletua being well held up by Fielden and Prescott on 53 minutes highlighted that.
However, Puletua would score the next time he drove at the line with a close range charge over, just 11 seconds before Roberts was due to return from the bin. Eastmond though missed a far easier conversion that his first goal and then meant Wigan still had a 16-10 lead.
I've no doubt at this point Wigan fans feared the worst and Saints fans feared another smug Easter was coming their way, but despite plenty of effort Wigan hung on under 15 minutes of pressure. Saints looked to be in with a chance of levelling the scores on the hour but Dean's pass to send Francis Meli in the left corner was rightly called forward.
Mick Potter's side continued to press but crucially they could not force any repeat sets. Their last tackle options were not harming Wigan. But they got a huge chance on 67 minutes when Roberts was penalised for obstruction on Wilkin ten metres from his own line. However, Leon Pryce ended up knocking on.
Although the clock was ticking into the final ten minutes, you felt Wigan needed a drop goal at least, to seal the win. They needed a special play to get out of their own territory and it came from Sam Tomkins in the 73rd minute. He had actually broken the line moments earlier but had to kick on the last, this time he was on the second tackle and St Helens, desperately hanging on, conceded a penalty. Richards went for goal despite the tough angle and kicked to make it 18-10 with 6 minutes to go.
Saints never looked like scoring twice and Wigan saw out the final moments to claim their first win at Knowsley Road since September 5th 2003. Well done lads!