Widnes might not have won their first match back in the big time, but they put up a magnificent performance before being beaten by Tommy Martyn's drop goal two minutes from the end of a thriller.
Their coach, Neil Kelly, kept his changes to the minimum, following the Challenge Cup defeat to Wakefield, fielding the same starting 13 apart from the inclusion of Stuart Spruce at fullback, and bringing in Craig Weston and David Mills among his substitutes. The task of facing St Helens was not made any easier by the inclusion of the last of their new signings, Barry Ward, making his debut via the bench.
If the revival of this particular derby tradition needed any added spice, it got it during and after the Wakefield game, when Saints' coach, Ian Millward, was sufficiently dismissive of Widnes's efforts to irritate many within the club. This was their chance to make his words haunt him.
Barry Eaton, disastrously off-target with his kicking against Wakefield, missed another when Chris Joynt was penalised for tackling his man without the ball during Widnes' best early attack.
Poor Eaton had another chance from a similar position and missed again. The positive side of Widnes' game was the way their determined defence was standing up to the test, twice keeping out Keiron Cunningham and once denying Sean Long's dart for the line. At the other end, Adam Hughes went close for Widnes as they continued to have their share of the opportunities. The third time they stopped Cunningham, however, the Widnes defence finally cracked. Over-committed on the blind side, they were opened up by Paul Sculthorpe's intelligent switch of play, kicking through for Long to pounce for the game's first point, before Daniel Frame's high tackle on Ward gave Long an easy penalty to go with his earlier conversion.
Widnes got a flying start to the second half when Darren Albert fumbled the ball dead from the kick-off. They seized their chance from the resulting possession, Daniel Frame charging on to Phil Cantillon's pass and just getting over the line. Eaton, to everyone's relief, landed a conversion rather more difficult than his two missed penalties.
A blunder from Chris Percival, knocking on Long's sliced attempt at a touch finder, set up the try that put St Helens back in command. This time Cunningham got away, running across field to put Martyn through a gap.
Hughes' interception would have bought a swift reply against any chaser other than Albert. Paul Wellens was sinbinned for delaying the restart – Eaton scored the penalty.
A wonderful handling move from Widnes looked to have broken down but Robert Relf dropped on to the ball as it was hacked through. A video perusal and another Eaton goal and Widnes were level.
Saints are always the favourites in the final minutes of close matches, however. Sculthorpe missed his drop goal attempt, Long hit the post with his but Martyn's 40-20 kick gave him the chance which, this time, he took.
There was still a final chance for Widnes when Steve Carter charged down Sculthorpe's kick but he could not gather the ball to give the game a final dramatic twist.
Widnes: Spruce; Munro, Demitriou, Hughes, Percival; Carter, Eaton; Relf, Cantillon, Stone, Farrell, McCurrie, Frame. Substitutes used: Western, Richardson, O'Neill, Mills.
St Helens: Wellens; Albert, Gleeson, Hoppe, Stewart; Martyn, Long; Britt, Cunningham, Edmondson, Joynt, Stankevitch, Sculthorpe. Substitutes used: West, Jonkers, Ward, Higham.
Referee: R Connolly (Wigan).Reuse content