Smith steers St Helens closer to showpiece

St Helens 28 Warrington 12
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The Independent Online

Warrington still have not won at Knowsley Road for 14 years – and they may have run out of chances. Despite the best of starts in this Super League qualifying semi-final, it was the same old story for Warrington against a Saints side that found inspiration from a returning exile.

Saints now have a week off and need to win just one more game to get to Old Trafford, while the Wolves must try to take the longer route to the Grand Final.

Injuries forced the home side to bring in Matty Smith, on loan at Salford all season, at scrum-half for his first game in more than two years. "It was a good move," said Mick Potter of the decision to bring back Smith, who has just signed on for two years with Salford. "He has proved his worth with Salford and he was worth his weight tonight even if he doesn't play another game."

It was another former St Helens half-back, however, who pulled all the strings in the opening minutes. After Sia Soliola had been penalised for a high tackle on Ben Harrison, Lee Briers found Chris Bridge with a cut-out pass to give him just enough space to put Matt King over in the corner.

Another penalty, this time for James Graham holding down Jon Clarke in the tackle, paved the way for the second try, with Briers using Richie Mathers as the extra man to release King again.

The rest of the first half belonged to Saints and particularly to Smith. His crafty grubber kick hit a post and a defender to create a converted try for Paul Wellens and his clever tactical kicking kept the Wolves under sustained pressure.

The try that gave Saints the lead was pure Keiron Cunningham, as the hooker spun out of a tackle and went 15 metres to score. As half-time approached, they extended that advantage, Graham crashing over from James Roby's short ball.

Kicks from Foster stretched the lead as Warrington's discipline creaked in the second half and their cause was lost when Chris Riley fumbled a kick and Wellens got the ball to Chris Flannery.

These teams could meet here again in two weeks, but that really is Warrington's last chance before Knowsley Road closes its gates for the final time.

St Helens Wellens; Foster, Gidley, Meli, Gardner; Wilkin, Smith; Graham, Cunningham, Hargreaves, Soliola, Flannery, Puletua.

Substitutes used Roby, Clough, Dixon, Emmitt.

Warrington Mathers; King, Bridge, Atkins, Riley; Briers, Monaghan; Morley, Clarke, Carvell, L.Anderson, Westwood, Harrison.

Substitutes used Solomona, Wood, Myler, Cooper.

Referee R.Silverwood (Mirfield).