Saints succumb to fatigue factor

Wigan Warriors 44 St Helens 10
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The Independent Online

The Saints fans at one end of the JJB Stadium acclaimed the side that had just been thrashed by Wigan as heroes on Saturday night. In so many ways, they were – but St Helens found out that even heroes have their limits.

Ian Millward had privately mused on whether his team had the resources left for another big match. He soon had his answer: Saints were out on their feet, playing from memory and courage, but simply worn out.

The most obvious symbol of that was David Fairleigh, the Australian prop who played with one good shoulder. He battled on with limitless bravery, but was twice ruthlessly exposed by Terry Newton running at his disabled side.

"It was a big struggle for him," admitted Millward. "I'm just so proud of him. He put his hand up and wanted to play, even though, if he'd done it again, it could have impaired him for the rest of his life."

Equally damaging was the way that other players, young and old, were missing tackles and dropping passes. After all their heroics this season, it was that most unwanted sporting fixture – a game too far.

None of that should detract from Wigan's excellence in taking advantage of staggering opponents. With Matthew Johns producing his best game for them so far, they were consistently incisive in midfield, making no end of clean breaks through a weary defence.

With Adrian Lam and Andy Farrell – who broke the club record for points in a season with his eight goals – also outstanding, they carved out opportunities from the very start. With some steadier finishing out wide, the game would have been beyond Saints sooner than it was.

It was a perfect answer to last week's defeat at Bradford, the side they now meet again in the Grand Final at Old Trafford on Saturday.

"The thing I was most happy with was the way we bounced back and the lessons we learned from last week," said their coach, Stuart Raper.

One of those lessons was that they have to use the ball to drag the opposition around the field; another was that they need to control their discipline. Both of those matters were attended to.

The challenge now is to get the squad's feet back on the ground after a result as eagerly awaited as this and prepare them for an even bigger effort against the Bulls.

Saints, who still have the World Club Championship and the Challenge Cup in their trophy cabinet, have to regroup for next year, without Fairleigh, Vila Matautia and probably Kevin Iro.

It will not be easy for them to match their achievements of the last 18 months. Millward's budget for players will be lower than this year's and their aura of invulnerability in big matches has been punctured.

But Millward is already looking forward to getting the likes of Sean Long and Paul Newlove back on the field. It will be a rejuvenated St Helens by the time they next play Wigan.

Wigan Warriors: Radlinski; Dallas, Connolly, Renouf, Carney; Johns, Lam; O'Connor, Newton, Howard, Furner, Cassidy, Farrell. Substitutes used: Johnson, Cowie, Chester, Betts.

St Helens: Wellens; Hall, Iro, Hoppe, Stewart; Sculthorpe, Martyn; Fairleigh, Cunningham, Matautia, Shiels, Stankevitch, Joynt. Substitutes used: Jonkers, Cruckshank, Edmondson, Higham.

Referee: S.Cummings (Widnes).

* Robbie Mears has left Leeds halfway through his two-year contract by mutual consent because of injury. The hooker suffered a broken jaw after a high tackle by St Helens' Sonny Nickle last month. In February Mears broke his collarbone on his Rhinos debut.