|Great game, great finish, but ultimately Wigan were disappointing in this derby. I mentioned in my match preview that this game was more important that many realise because what this defeat does is put self doubt in both our players and fans, whilst giving St Helens tons of belief.|
It also puts pressure on Wigan in the key games to follow. Warrington are now back to within two points of us in the table, whilst Saints are just four points behind. A win would have left Wire fours points and Saints eight points away - a massive difference.
You have to give credit to Saints. I'll be honest I thought they would struggle to handle us out wide but they played to their strengths and dominated us in the forwards. I know Saints had six men out themselves but the absences of Sean O'Loughlin, Lee Mossop, Harrison Hansen and Eamon O'Carroll proved to be key losses I think. The truth was though the victory was far more convincing for Saints than the final score suggests. 26-24 flatters Wigan.
In the end I think the game was won and lost in the first ten minutes. Wigan had Saints on the back foot but only came away from that pressure with a penalty goal. This despite two excellent grubbers from Thomas Leuluai causing all sorts of problems. Amos Roberts went close to grounding the first kick but just couldn't get it down and a second kick was well batted back by Pat Richards but no Wigan players reacted. The option to "take the two" soon after was perhaps an error. It was too early in the game for me.
Compare that to Saints who scored of their first real attack. After kicking a 40/20, Leon Pryce cruised over from close range. Being first receiver from the scrum he aimed for the line and ran over Phil Bailey's tackle attempt to score close to the posts. Youngster Jamie Foster converted to make it 6-2 Saints.
That try gave Saints a huge lift and they had another set on the Wigan line soon after Foster blew a certain try by knocking on a Matt Gidley pass in the right corner.
Wigan were now struggling to get near the Saints line, but didn't help themselves with a penalty conceded in possession. George Carmont was penalised for interfering with James Graham at the play the ball. I don't think I've ever seen an attacker penalised for that but it gave Saints the opportunity to increase their lead.
Again poor defence by Wigan. On a last tackle, Francis Meli got the ball out wide on the left and jabbed the ball into the in goal and won the race to touch down. Feka Paleaaesina did little to stop him and you have to ask why on earth was he out on the wing? I'm not sure it was grounded personally but his efforts deserved the decision. Foster couldn't convert so it was 10-2 to Saints.
Momentum was now all with St Helens and they scored again on 29 minutes. Again poor defence on a last tackle. James Roby shot out of the play the ball like a cannon but a combination of both Liam Farrell and Joel Tomkins should have held him up. Try was given by video ref Ben Thaler and that made it 16-2 after Foster converted.
Wigan needed something special and they should have got it on 32 minutes. Mark Riddell's pass sent Joel Tomkins breaking away from inside his own half and all he had to do was draw in full back Paul Wellens and send Pat Richards in for an easy score. But the pass was knocked on for the biggest bombed try of all time.
It was looking like Saints would hit half time with a convincing lead but a huge 40/20 attempt from James Roby went out of the full to provide Wigan with a first opportunity to attack the line in over 20 minutes. After a nice stab kick from Amos Roberts forced a drop out, a long pass from Sam Tomkins allowed Karl Pryce to claim his 12th try in 8 matches for Wigan this season. He just had too much power for Foster in defence. They say good sides score right on half time but the missed conversion from Richards left the score at 16-6 - still plenty of work to be done.
What Wigan needed was the first try of the second half and it took just 67 seconds to claim it. Thomas Leuluai took advantage of poor defence from Scott Moore to score from close range. Richards converted and in just three minutes either side of half time a 16-2 lead had become 16-12.
After that try Wigan may have lost substitute Chris Tuson with a bloodied nose and Karl Pryce was beginning to limp around with a leg injury, but the match was now well and truly in the balance. Sadly Wigan wasted a good opportunity after great strength from Liam Farrell had forced Roby into the in goal for a drop out. From that, it needed at least a completed set but Mark Riddell threw a forward pass. A total momentum killer.
To make matters worse Saints scored up the other end from that error. A penalty conceded by Joel Tomkins did the damage and Paul Wellens beat soft defending from close range. Foster converted to make it 22-12 and from that daft forward pass we'd gone from possibly taking the lead to being ten points behind again. You cannot give Saints this kind of gift play because they always punish.
Wigan did have opportunities to hit back. On 58 Minutes George Carmont didn't have the same luck that Francis Meli had enjoyed earlier. In the same left corner, Karl Pryce hit Carmont with a brilliant offload but the referee decided that a superb tackle from Paul Wellens just got him in touch before grounding. That decision really should have gone to the video ref because it looked very close to me.
Then on 64 minutes Wigan had two sets of attack on the Saints line but they just couldn't get over and again Saints punished us by going up the other end and scoring for a second time. Karl Pryce had come off it his injury by now and I'm not sure who was meant to replace him on the left wing but that player wasn't in place as Foster ghosted over for an easy score. He couldn't convert but it was now 26-12 with 13 minutes to go. Saints were taking advantage of opportunities, we weren't, that was the difference.
You have to credit Wigan though for the fact that they didn't roll over and die and accept the game was over. It should have been but two quick tries in a three minute spell left Saints with a sweaty last five minutes.
After Leuluai had forced a drop out, he then received a penalty after Keiron Cunningham hit him late. Cunningham actually came off worse and had to leave the field. From that penalty, Mike McIlorum took advantage of tired defending to score his first ever Wigan try at DW Stadium. Richards converted to make it 18-26.
Then on the next set, Scott Moore failed to take an intercept attempt and Leuluai's pass sent Martin Gleeson over past more tired defending. Richards conversion now made it 24-26 with five minutes to go.
Saints looked knackered and desperately sent the experienced Cunningham back onto the field. He helped calmed things down and Saints forced Wigan into a drop out. But Richards the legend found touch from it. Should never have done really but Paul Clough and Andrew Dixon showed inexperience by not defending.
Wigan now had a scrum near half way and with two minutes to go I'm sure fans of both sides expected us to nick it. Chris Tuson was back on there looking like Andy Farrell against Leeds all those years ago but was still streaming with blood. He was made to change his shirt and was given Karl Pryce's to wear.
On the fourth tackle Leuluai was charging at the line but a combination of Wellens and Flannery just stopped him short. Last tackle, bomb put up by Sam Tomkins towards the left wing but it wasn't the best and Foster caught it and kept inside the field of play.
Wigan did have one last set after that but the clock had now beaten them. A deep kick was hacked away by Wellens and Saints had hung on to a match they should never have been in danger of losing. After collapsing at Hull the other week that would worry me, even though they got away with it this time.
As for Wigan they have many lessons to learn if they want to win the Super League this year. They didn't have enough composure, didn't build up enough pressure and worst of all, they didn't defend well on the goal line. Plenty of work to be done on that display.
You can't blame the referee for this loss at all but 4 defeats now this season all with Phil Bentham in the middle. That just gives us another mental barrier to overcome when he next takes charge of us.
One consistent factor in our losses this year is how we've bounced back the next week with a good win. We need to do that again against Harlequins or else the wheels could start to come off our season.