Saints will resume hostilities with Leeds in the Super League Grand Final at Old Trafford on Saturday, thanks to a hard-fought derby victory that hinged on their scrum-halves, present and future. Sean Long, in his last home game before joining Hull, scored a try and made one, with the other being set up by his heir apparent, Kyle Eastmond. Although a resilient Wigan, whose Brian Noble announced his departure here, gave them a scare when Pat Richards scored 10 minutes from time, Long helped to steady Saints at the end as they clung to their slender lead.
Long warmed up for his farewell appearance here in typically unorthodox fashion, carrying out a book signing for his recently published autobiography in St Helens' town centre. It always looked the sort of match in which one of the great maverick talents of the British game might sign off in style against his first professional club – and a club which, his book reveals, once paid him a £2,000 "bung" to leave Saints, which he pocketed and stayed put.
It was also the biggest game between the two traditional rivals since the 2004 Challenge Cup final – a year after Wigan last won at Knowsley Road. Long's prospective successor at scrum-half, Eastmond, was responsible for getting Wigan off to a bad start in this one. The game was less than two minutes old when he pulled out of Sam Tomkins' tackle, accelerated away from two other defenders and sent Francis Meli over with a perfectly timed inside pass.
It would be fair to say that Long's career at St Helens has been more notable for buccaneering attacking than rigorous defence, but he protected his side's lead twice within a minute. First he scrambled back to knock Sam Tomkins' kick safely dead. Then it was his tackle that took Pat Richards' foot into touch when the Wigan winger threatened an equalising try.
He could do nothing after 22 minutes, however, when Sam Tomkins' high kick into a swirling wind got away from the Saints defence, with the video referee, Ian Smith, awarding the try after satisfying himself that Richards had not knocked on.
Another video decision went against Saints when Meli was denied a second try for a foot in touch. As half-time approachedthey got one that did count, with Long predictably at the heart of it. He took James Roby's pass, sold a dummy and plunged over in a pile of bodies. Smith ratified the touchdown and Saints, despite playing into the strong wind, were ahead at the break.
Saints put their rivals under pressure at the start of the second half with Paul Clough held up over the try-line and then Eastmond getting forced into touch at the corner flag. There was no reprieve for Wigan on 49 minutes, however, when Saints' departing hero produced what was, in both senses, a long pass to put Meli in for his second.
Andy Coley was lucky only to go on report for a high tackle on another Saint making his final home appearance, Lee Gilmour.
Just as Saints seemed to have weathered the storm, Joel Tomkins burst down the left and Carmont got the ball to Richards, who kicked ahead for the try but could not add the conversion.
It still left a nervous few minutes for Saints, who needed to defend desperately to keep Wigan at bay in what had developed into a classic.
St Helens Wellens; Gardner, Gidley, Eastmond, Meli; Pryce, Long; Graham, Cunningham, Puletua, Wilkin, Flannery, Gilmour. Substitutes used: Fa'asavalu, Hargreaves, Clough, Roby.
Wigan Phelps; Roberts, Gleeson, Carmont, Richards; S Tomkins, Burrow; Prescott, Riddell, Coley, Hansen, J Tomkins, O'Loughlin. Substitutes used: Fielden, Paleaaesina, Mossop, Flanagan.
Referee: S Ganson (St Helens).Reuse content