Farrell drop goal proves one obstacle too many

St Helens 28 Wigan Warriors 29
Click to follow
The Independent Online

A drop goal at the end of the first half which hardly seemed important at the time proved the difference between the two sides in another of their series of dramatic battles.

Ahead by 13 going into the last quarter, Wigan saw all but Andy Farrell's single point eroded as Saints roared back at them. It was enough to take Wigan above their old enemies into second place in the table, with whatever psychological advantage that might bring for the rest of the campaign.

Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? The seventh meeting over the last 12 months between these traditional rivals – but at least two more to come in what remains of this season – would decide little but the mid-term pecking order in Super League's top five, but these occasions always have a life of their own.

Contrary to pre-match predictions, Saints were still without Tommy Martyn, missing since the Challenge Cup final and a serial pain in the backside to Wigan. The Warriors have had problems of their own at stand-off, but there have been signs since Matthew Johns returned from injury that he will ultimately be the trump card for them there, that they expected him to be.

He was prominently involved in the two tries in the first seven minutes, which gave Wigan a flying start. His precise short task sent David Furner over and it was then he who linked with Adrian Lam for Farrell to go in and add a second conversion.

The visitors could easily have been 18-0 ahead, had David Hodgson not been held back by Steve Hall as he tried to get up in support of Steve Renouf's break. A penalty in midfield hardly seemed an adequate punishment.

Saints soon took advantage of that escape by twice exploiting Wigan's hesitancy in defence around the play-the-ball. Sean Hoppe ran across field and straightened up to find a gap under the posts and, before Wigan had recovered, Keiron Cunningham fed David Fairleigh and with two Paul Sculthorpe conversions Saints were level.

Both sides had their chances before Wigan got their noses in front again before half-time, Kris Radlinski timing his run on to Lam's little kick. They finished the half with a nine-point cushion, thanks to a full house, a conversion, a penalty and a dropped goal from Farrell.

That lead was stretched straight after the break by another penalty, that was awarded against Wigan for Terry Newton's dangerous throw on Sonny Nickle, was indirectly responsible for bringing Saints back into it. From that attack, Peter Shiels dummied and reached over to cut the lead to seven points. Anthony Sullivan had one disallowed for a forward pass before Wigan responded with Chris Chester's break and pass through Radlinski.

A lucky rebound from a loose Paul Newlove pass gave Saints the possession from which the outstanding Fairleigh went over. Sculthorpe's chip and re-gather and a tackle from Mick Cassidy that knocked the ball out of Paul Welland's hand only set up Newlove for another converted try.

Brian Carney's tackle kept Sullivan out at the corner and Sculthorpe missed a penalty in the breathless minutes remaining. This match will ultimately decide nothing, but you would not have known it last night.

St Helens: Stewart; Hoppe, Iro, Newlove, Sullivan; Sculthorpe, Wellens; Nickle, Cunningham, Fairleigh, Shiels, Joynt, Hall. Substitutes used: Higham, Jonkers.

Wigan Warriors: Radlinski; Carney, Johnson, Renouf, Hodgson; Johns, Lam; O'Connor, Newton, Howard, Cassidy, Furner, Farrell. Substitutes used: Cowie, Betts, Chester.

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).