Joynt at head of Saints' march

Super League Grand Final: Captain directs a thrilling finale to deny Wigan and set stage for the World Cup
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The Independent Online

Saints retained their Super League title last night, winning a vibrant grand final by finding the inspiration to repel Wigan's revival mid-way through the second half.

Saints retained their Super League title last night, winning a vibrant grand final by finding the inspiration to repel Wigan's revival mid-way through the second half.

Much of that inspiration came from their captain, Chris Joynt, who as well as leading their defensive effort scored two tries and won the Harry Sunderland trophy as man of the match.

For the second year running the overriding reason for their success lay in a collective commitment to defence that has not always been the quality most closely associated with them.

A record grand final crowd saw a match that was, for the first time since the new format was adopted, something of a classic.

The intriguing aspects of it began with the team sheets. Neither side was able to call upon an injured star centre, with Paul Newlove and Gary Connolly both ruled out. Saints' way of dealing with the loss was the more straightforward, Sean Hoppe moving to centre and Steve Hall being promoted from the bench to play on the wing.

Wigan went in for a more wholesale reorganisation, moving Kris Radlinski to centre, putting Jason Robinson at full-back for his final game of rugby league and bringing in the largely untried David Hodgson on the wing. It was not a reshuffle which worked well; although Robinson and Hodgson had their moments in attack, they were caught out defensively on occasion.

Robinson was one of the tacklers who could have been expected to stop Saints' first try, set up by Joynt for Hoppe after six minutes, but he also made the typical, scuttling run from deep in his own half that helped to set up the position from which Tony Smith sent Andy Farrell striding through two tackles to score the equalising try. Robinson knocked on a high kick from the outstanding Sean Long to concede the scrum from which Saints took the lead once more, Joynt battling his way over with a determination that typified his approach to the whole event.

Long landed the first goal of the game and Paul Sculthorpe's drop goal gave Saints a seven point half-time lead that looked likely to be a significant one.

Wigan needed a breakthrough early in the second half and thought they had it when Steve Renouf hit full pace on the left flank. Long's cover tackle cut him down, however, and Renouf's attempt to throw the ball inside ended in the arms of Fereti Tuilagi. Then, on the counter attack, Long ran at the line, beat Denis Betts' tackle and there was Joynt backing up on the inside for his second try.

That was a match-winning lead, but back came Wigan with two tries in three minutes. For the first, the Halifax connection paid off, with their substitute, Chris Chester, making the break and Hodgson arriving in support to show his speed and score. When Farrell sent in Smith for another converted try, the margin was down to a single point.

"We'd had 10 minutes when we went away from the way we were playing the game, but I was still confident because I thought we controlled most of it," said Saints' coach, Ian Millward. "Even when we were under pressure we were still moving up in defence. I thought our defence was superb."

With 11 minutes to play, his confidence was reinforced, Tommy Martyn's pass finding Tuilagi, another in his final game of rugby league, and with Hodgson diving out of the line looking for the intercept, the Samoan was able to go through the gap and touch down.

Wigan still threw everything at Saints, but the defence held firm through a series of sets of tackles deep in their own territory. "It's only the press who say we can't tackle," Millward said. "People have questioned whether there's steel in our defence but it's not something we've ever needed to talk about."

Not only Saints' determined defence but also the clock was now against Wigan. With seconds to play, the half-Dutch teenager Tim Jonkers, another of Saints' outstanding contributors on the night, rounded it off with another converted try.

Wigan, disappointed as they were, had no complaints. "At 17-16 we came back on a high. We were on a real roll and I thought we could come back and win the match," said their coach, Frank Endacott. "But it wasn't to be."

As his captain, Farrell, pointed out, it had been a good season for Wigan and a great match with which to end it. There was no doubt in the final analysis, however, that Saints, who have won three of the five Super League titles, deserved to cling on to their prize.

St Helens: Wellens; Hall, Iro, Hoppe, Sullivan; Martyn, Long; Perelini, Cunningham, O'Neill, Jonkers, Joynt, Sculthorpe. Substitutes used: Tuilagi, Nickle, Stankevitch, Barrow.

Wigan: Robinson; Dallas, Renouf, Radlinski, Hodgson; Smith, Peters; O'Connor, Newton, Cowie, Cassidy, Betts, Farrell. Substitutes used: Malam, Mestrov, Chester, Gilmour.

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).