Saints-Leeds Grand Finals used to be the norm. It is a fair bet that few people expected one this year. In a game which, following the classic at Warrington on Friday night, continued to restore the good name of the play-off system, St Helens qualified for Old Trafford with a display of ferocious determination.
Frequently under the cosh on a hot night at Widnes, Saints kept coming up with the key defensive plays and then took their chances when they came. It was far from an error-free performance from a side that has had to battle adversity all season, but they were always willing and able to cover for their mistakes.
Helped by Saints' errors, Wigan dominated the first quarter of an hour. Jonny Lomax's kick out on the full, followed by an offside penalty, gave them their first opportunity, converted into two points by the boot of Pat Richards.
There seemed to be a forward pass from Brett Finch to Thomas Leuluai in the build-up to the game's first try, but there was no excuse for Jamie Foster's flailing kick at the bouncing ball, which only deflected it into the arms of Josh Charnley.
With a couple of other good chances going begging, it was a miracle that Wigan were not more than six points ahead before Saints started to play. A powerful run by the soon-to-depart James Graham got them moving and Lee Gaskell should have found a man in support.
Then Eamon O'Carroll, just into the game, was penalised for holdingdown Michael Shenton to put his side under pressure. Lomax ran across the defence and Gaskell went over.
Foster's second goal briefly put Saints ahead, but then O'Carroll, a prop who spent 15 months out injured and who is being released to join Hull, made up for his earlier indiscretion.
Taking a short pass from Leuluai, he appeared to have been grounded, but somehow managed to bounce over the try-line.
With Sam Tomkins obviously struggling with a leg injury, a four-point lead was no sort of insurance for Wigan, who saw Richards brought back early in the second half for a forward pass from George Carmont.
A couple of minutes later, a cunningkick by James Roby saw Paul Wellens bustle through for the 200th try of his distinguished career and Foster's conversion put Saints ahead once more, a penalty from the same player soon doubling the lead.
They finally looked to be on their way to Old Trafford when, on the last tackle of a set, a lightning pass from Jon Wilkin gave Foster just enough space to touch down in the corner.
A kick straight into touch by Gaskell put Saints under pressure again, but Sia Soliola's tackle on Harrison Hansen kept their line intact. Foster's tackle on Charnley did the same.
Six minutes from time, after Andy Coley had been penalised for a high tackle, Roby ensured that the coacheswill be heading down the East Lancashire Road on Saturday when he darted over. The hobbling Tomkins' late effort was a token one.
"I'm really proud of the blokes because they've beaten a champion side," said the St Helens coach Royce Simmons. "We had a lot of defending to do in big blocks."
Wigan's Michael Maguire blamed a failure to take their chances for an anti-climactic end to his two years in charge, admitting: "We didn't execute well enough tonight."
St Helens Wellens; Makinson, Shenton, Meli, Foster; Gaskell, Lomax; Graham, Roby, Puletua, Wilkin, Soliola, Clough. Substitutes used: Moore, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Wheeler, Dixon.
Wigan S Tomkins; Charnley, J Tomkins, Carmont, Richards; Finch, Leuluai; Coley, McIlorum, Lima, Hansen, Hoffman, O'Loughlin. Substitutes used: Prescott, Farrell, O'Carroll, Tuson.
Referee P Bentham (Warrington)Reuse content