Raper: 'The monkey's off our back'

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The Independent Online

The Wigan coach, Stuart Raper, seemed a relieved man after his side resisted a St Helens second-half fightback to record a memorable derby success against the Super League champions at Knowsley Road.

"St Helens had a lot of opportunities to put us away but it gets a bit of the monkey off our back," he said. "All week, people were saying St Helens have been on top. I was pleased to get the win but I'm not pleased with a lot of things we did. At times our discipline was very poor and we played some pretty dumb football in the second half. We made a great start but we let them back in the game on the back of penalties we gave away."

Saints seemed irresistible as they fought back furiously after trailing 29-16 midway through the second half to close the gap to a single point, but the Warriors hung on in a nail-biting finale to claim a precious 29-28 victory.

It needed a miraculous last-ditch tackle from Irishman Brian Carney to deny Anthony Sullivan a match-winning try, while third-choice goal kicker Paul Sculthorpe was wide with a penalty two minutes from the end that could have changed a heartbreaking defeat into a euphoric triumph.

Wigan's second victory in eight derby contests was achieved at a cost, however, with prop Terry O'Connor sustaining a badly broken nose and stand-off Matthew Johns dislocating a finger. O'Connor looks certain now to miss Ireland's international against France in Albi on Tuesday.

Ireland could be further depleted following Friday night's bruising encounter. The St Helens skipper, Chris Joynt, earmarked to step in as Ireland captain, sustained a knee injury, while Mick Cassidy (dead leg), Anthony Stewart (back) and Brian Carney (hamstring) were other casualties.

Wigan were once more indebted to captain Andy Farrell, who scored a try and kicked six goals from as many attempts. It was also his superb 40-metre drop goal just before half-time that eventually separated the sides.

Leeds were forced to cope without their inspirational leader when Iestyn Harris withdrew from Friday night's home game with Warrington after his girlfriend went into labour. The game desperately lacked the spark of a player of Harris' genius as the two sides fought out a scrappy 24-24 draw.

The Wolves had held the edge for most of the game, and a try from former Leeds favourite Martin Masella looked to have put them on course for victory, but a late score from hooker Robbie Mears saw Leeds scrape a point. "Iestyn had to be with his girlfriend," said the Rhinos coach, Daryl Powell. "There are far more important things going on for him than rugby league right now."

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