Tenacious Wigan secure overdue Wembley berth
Wigan 18 St Helens 12
Dave Hadfield was a schoolboy convert to rugby league, the game which, one way or another, has dominated his life ever since. After working for newspapers in Shropshire and Blackpool (where he covered the fortunes of Blackpool Borough) he travelled the world, working mainly in Hong Kong and Sydney. He became The Independent's rugby league man in 1990 and has written five books on the game and broadcast extensively for Sky and the BBC. Dave played his last game at the age of 53 and would have set up a try if anyone could have been bothered supporting his break. When not writing about the sport, he now limits himself to a bit of tick and pass with his local club, the Bolton Mets. Family includes supporters - of varying degrees of dedication - of Salford, Wigan, Sheffield Eagles and St George Illawarra.
Halliwell Jones Stadium
Monday 08 August 2011
Had you told Wigan on their last visit to Wembley in 1998 that they would not only lose to Sheffield Eagles that day but that it would also be 13 years before they returned, you would have been dismissed as a fantasist.
A combination of the stadium's redevelopment and Wigan's loss of their position as rugby league's pre-eminent side turned that unlikely prediction into reality.
Now, however, they are on their way back to their second home for the Challenge Cup final on 27 August, thanks to the timeless virtues that saw them beat their oldest rivals at Warrington on Saturday.
First and foremost, Wigan showed what a formidable defensive team they have become under the demanding coaching regime of Michael Maguire. He sets high standards; a player of the calibre of Gareth Hock, for instance, was left out of this semi because his tackling is not yet considered back up to speed.
Nor does Maguire hand out praise freely, but he went around the changing room with congratulations after they kept Saints tryless to half-time, despite them dominating possession.
The only try of the first half had sprung from a dynamic burst by Josh Charnley. Although Paul Wellens did magnificently to tackle him, he could not stop the ball shifting rapidly to the opposite wing for George Carmont to score. Charnley claimed the second himself after the restart and, almost inevitably, Sam Tomkins, who had earlier had one denied, got in on the act with a typical poacher's try.
That should have been that, but nobody told St Helens, whose courage contributed mightily to a memorable semi-final. With two key players – James Roby and James Graham – only able to take the field with injections, they were handicapped from the start and could have subsided meekly by the end. On the contrary, they came back strongly with two tries to Jamie Foster, threatening the sort of last-gasp escape St Helens have made famous. Wigan regrouped to deny them but, like Maguire, Saints coach Royce Simmons had much to reflect upon with pride.
Wigan: S Tomkins; Charnley, Carmont, J Tomkins, Richards; Finch, Deacon; Lima, Leuluai, Coley, Hansen, Hoffman, O'Loughlin. Substitutes used McIlorum, Mossop, Farrell, Cross.
St Helens: Wellens; Makinson, Shenton, Meli, Foster; Pryce, Lomax; Graham, Roby, Puletua, Flannery, Soliola, Wilkin. Substitutes used McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Moore, Clough, Gaskell.
Referee: R Silverwood (Mirfield).
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