A spell-bound capacity crowd saw Tommy Martyn pull apart the tightest and most compelling of contests between these old rivals last night, making and scoring a try and putting over a drop goal in a seven minute burst in the second half.
In a game of constant cut and thrust, only Martyn could unlock some magnificent defence, taking Saints to second in the Super League in the process.
They appeared to have an advantage when last night's teams were named, with all their casualties declared fit to play. Wigan had no Kris Radlinski, although Gary Connolly was reckoned to have recovered sufficiently from his broken hand to play full-back in his place.
The first half was try-less, but that was not for want of enterprise from either side. Wigan had a wonderful early chance to take the lead when Julian O'Neill burst through but failed to release the ball to the supporting Paul Johnson and then lost it in the tackle.
They wasted another good position before Sean Long kicked Saints into the lead with a penalty. Long also came desperately close to engineering the first try, Paul Sculthorpe beating Connolly to his kick but just failing to touchdown.
Sustained Wigan pressure saw Brett Dallas, Brian Carney and David Furner all go close, but the home defence was outstanding. Saints also had their spells camped on the Wigan line, but this was a game where superb tackling cancelled out some fine attacking rugby.
O'Neill was on his way to the line but Darren Albert somehow managed to knock the ball out of his hands. Wigan had made the better chances, but the reception for both sides from a packed Knowsley Road at half-time was a reminder that rugby league does not need a shed full of points to be gripping.
Long thought he had broken the drought three minutes after the interval but his try was disallowed for a knock-on by Sculthorpe after Saints had gained possession with Tommy Martyn's high kick.
It took a fine tackle from Connolly to stop Martin Gleeson when his footwork took him through, while at the other end Wigan's David Hodgson could have sneaked in if he had been able to hang on to the ball. Hodgson then sent Mark Smith away with what would have been a spectacular first try but for an unbelievable chase and tackle from Kieron Cunningham.
Something had to give eventually and after 57 minutes it did. Martyn kicked through, regathered and passed blind to the charging Peter Shields and this time there was no escape.
Four minutes later Martyn struck again, this time pouncing on Long's kick and then, for good measure, he chipped in with a drop-goal in what amounted to a positive rush of points.
With two minutes to play, Martyn – who else? – supplied the pass to Anthony Stewart that rounded off a truly game-breaking contribution.
St Helens: Wellens; Albert, Gleeson, Newlove, Stewart; Martyn, Long; Britt, Cunningham, Shiels, Joynt, Jonkers, Sculthorpe. Substitutes used: Ward, Stankevitch, Higham, Hoppe.
Wigan Warriors: Connolly; Dallas, Ainscough, Johnson, Carney; O'Neill, Lam; O'Connor, Newton, C Smith, Cassidy, Furner, Farrell.Substitutes: Haughton, Howard, M Smith, Hodgson
Referee: S Cummings (Widnes).Reuse content