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Rugby League

Saints end Noble's reign

St Helens 14 Wigan 10

Brian Noble walked away from his job as Wigan coach with head held high on Saturday, after losing again to a side that knows how to win semi-finals.

It was the fifth defeat of Noble's tenure at that stage of the Challenge Cup and the Super League play-offs – and ultimately that is not good enough for a club with Wigan's aspirations.

No matter that he rescued them from the threat of relegation three years ago and has improved standards across the board.

Wigan are still not winning things. Hence the decision of the chairman, Ian Lenagan – made weeks ago but only announced on Saturday – that Noble must pursue his career elsewhere, probably at the Celtic Crusaders.

"We believe on balance that it is now time for change at Wigan, to progress to even higher levels and achieve the trophy-winning success which our fans rightly expect," he said after the match. It would not even have saved Noble's job if Wigan had broken their recent habit and reached the Grand Final at Old Trafford. The die was cast and Wigan will name their new coach on Wednesday.

The icy gap that has grown between chairman and coach was evident in their different assessments of their latest near-miss.

Noble spoke of his pride in the players' effort, the injustice of their defeat and their potential for the future.

Lenagan had his chance to share in those sentiments, but instead referred to it frostily as "a decent performance – but we're capable of better".

The chairman yearns for the days when Wigan lorded it over the likes of St Helens. They could have ended a win-less sequence at Knowsley Road that goes back to 2003, but in the end were not quite good enough.

One reason for that was the enduring mastery of Sean Long, another man taking his leave this weekend after agreeing his transfer from Saints to Hull.

Old Trafford will be a fitting swan-song, but this was his farewell to his adoring home crowd. It was not one of his very greatest games, but it can be added to the long, long list of extremely influential ones.

Not only did he score a try and make one, he was also responsible for two vital tackles – the latter a controversial drag into touch on Joel Tomkins when Wigan were threatening to salvage the game.

He might have been lucky to get away with that, but overall his Saints career has provided the sort of X-factor that Wigan crave.

St Helens: Wellens; Gardner, Gidley, Eastmond, Meli; Pryce,

Long; Graham, Cunningham, Puletua, Flannery, Wilkin, Gilmour, Clough. Substitutes used: Roby, Hargreaves, Clough, Fa'asavalu.

Wigan: Phelps; Roberts, Gleeson, Carmont, Richards; S Tomkins, Leuluai; Coley, Riddell, Prescott, J Tomkins, Hansen, O'Loughlin. Substitutes used: Fielden, Paleaaesina, Flanagan, Mossop.

Referee: S Ganson (St Helens).