Keiron Cunningham, the St Helens coach, was happy to see his side “win ugly” after they moved to within 80 minutes of a trip to Wembley.
Saints let slip an 18-6 lead against Widnes and were staring at an exit from the Challenge Cup as they fell 20-18 behind early in the second half. But, inspired by captain Jon Wilkin, the Super League champions finished strongly, scoring three tries late on through Kyle Amor, Jordan Turner and makeshift full-back Mark Percival to clinch a 36-20 quarter-final success. They will now play the holders Leeds in the semi-finals.
“It wasn’t the greatest performance but sometimes you have just got to win ugly and that’s what we did,” Cunningham said.
“I actually thought Widnes did a great job and they played the referee better than we did. We got mugged in the ruck and we didn’t respond to that.
“We hung in there really well,” Cunningham added. “If they hadn’t scored before half-time I think it would have been a different game but we made a bit of a meal of the start of the second half.
“All credit to my halves and Jon Wilkin, the people who get the ball in their hands the most, they really brought us on well and that final 30 minutes were up with the best we’ve played this season.”
It was a familiar feeling for the Widnes coach, Denis Betts, after a third close-fought defeat of the season to St Helens.
With captain Kevin Brown at the heart of their attack, the Vikings turned the tie on its head with three tries in a 16-minute spell either side of half-time through Danny Craven, Patrick Ah Van and Chris Dean. But hopes of a second successive semi-final appearance were dashed as the visitors tired towards the end.
“Everybody knows the final scoreline is harsh but that can happen,” Betts said. “I thought it was a great cup tie but it’s small margins, we’re just falling the wrong side of some really tight games. It’s the story of my year.
“It was a high-tempo, high-energy game, and there were a couple of real tight calls that put us under pressure. We were an inch away from two tries in the first half. It’s tough to take but I’m really proud of the players.”Reuse content