St Helens 48 Wigan 10: Sculthorpe sets the pace as Saints roll over gritty Wigan

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The Independent Online

It says much about how low Wigan's immediate expectations have sunk that they will have gone into discussions with Brian Noble yesterday relieved to have negotiated an insurmountable hurdle without suffering total humiliation.

After conceding 75 points at Knowsley Road on their last visit, this almost counted as a solid effort, with much in the way of resolve to recommend it. "I thought they fought well for the whole game," said the Wigan chairman, Maurice Lindsay. "There were a lot of youngsters out there who performed superbly. There was commitment from first to last and there was no disgrace from us."

Lindsay was hoping to persuade Noble later in the day to leave Bradford to try to take Wigan's combination of injured stars and promising kids off the bottom of Super League.

Coming to the stronghold of unbeaten local rivals was always a hopeless scenario for a side in Wigan's current disarray, but they showed more spark from the opening minutes onwards than they have in some of their recent performances. They hogged the possession for the first 10 minutes and even fashioned the game's first chance when David Vaealiki was taken into touch by John Wilkin's tackle.

They were even getting a helping hand from Paul Sculthorpe, of all people, who kept them up the right end of the field with a cheap penalty and a knock-on. Significantly, though, Saints scored on their first real attack, Keiron Cunningham finding a gap in the Wigan defence and Sculthorpe scoring his first try at Knowsley Road for an injury-plagued 11 months.

Wayne Godwin's run threatened on Wigan's behalf before the ball went to ground, but Saints went further ahead after 18 minutes, with Sculthorpe again involved prominently. He got the ball away to Jamie Lyon to allow him to cruise effortlessly past Pat Richards and supply the try-scoring pass to the supporting Paul Wellens.

Wigan's tackling was still not disintegrating the way that it has at places like Castleford and Wakefield, with Chris Ashton's effort to push Ian Hardman into touch a good example of last-ditch defence.

It was a matter of time before they were opened up again, however, and it happened two minutes before half-time when James Graham picked up Paul Anderson's offload and linked up with Wilkin and Leon Pryce for Sean Long to go over. Lyon added his third goal out of an eventual seven, but an 18-point deficit at half-time amounted almost to a moral victory for a side in Wigan's current plight.

More excellent work from the richly promising Graham helped to set up Ade Gardner to score from Lyon's pass at the start of the second half, but Wigan finally got the reward their grit deserved when two of their young players combined, Darrell Goulding sending Ashton away down the right touchline.

The Wigan fans were sufficiently encouraged to attempt a few choruses of "Brian Noble's Barmy Army", but they were disappointed when Richards had a try disallowed shortly afterwards. Instead, Hardman leapt high to catch Long's kick cleanly for Saints' fifth try, before Jason Hooper went over for a quickfire double with rather too much ease.

There was a last defiant note from Wigan when Jordan James, who was playing for Swinton in National League Two a fortnight ago, became an unlikely Super League try-scorer.

St Helens: Wellens; Gardner, Lyon, Talau, Hardman; Pryce, Long; P Anderson, Cunningham, Cayless, Sculthorpe, Wilkin, Hooper. Substitutes used: Fa'asavalu, Graham, Roby, V Anderson

Wigan: Moran; Ashton, Vaealiki, Richards, Dallas; Orr, Higham; Seuseu, Godwin, Hargreaves, Jonkers, James, O'Loughlin. Substitutes used: Goulding, Tomkins, O'Carroll, Wilkes.

Referee: K Kirkpatrick (Warrington).