Wellens leaves his mark as Saints close gap on Wigan with hard-fought victory

Wigan 24 St Helens 26
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The Independent Online

The South Lancashire struggle for supremacy at the top of Super League is a long way from being resolved following the gutsiest of victories by the Saints. After a game they dominated for long periods, Wigan are now just four points clear of their old rivals, with Warrington wedged between them. If they do not win the League Leaders' Trophy at the end of the regular season, they will look back on this as the evening it got away.

"Wigan played better," admitted Saints' coach Mick Potter. "But I never doubte our courage and resilience under pressure."

The Warriors looked sharper in the opening stages and only some desperate defence limited them to a Pat Richards' penalty in the first 15 minutes. It was Leon Pryce who changed the direction of the match, first with a 40/20 kick to lift the siege and then by ghosting in for the first try, direct from the scrum. Jamie Foster added the goal but then missed a golden chance when he fumbled Matt Gidley's pass with the line open.

That did not appear to be too serious an error, as Francis Meli scored Saints' second try, putting in the most delicate of kicks when he appeared to run out of space in the corner and diving on the loose ball to the satisfaction of the video referee. Meli was also heavily involved in the third, making the break through the middle that enabled James Roby to dart over from dummy-half.

Wigan should have struck back through Joel Tomkins' defence-splitting break, but Richard unaccountably knocked-on his pass. They did make in-roads before half-time, however, when the other Tomkins brother, Sam, threw the long pass that enabled the younger Pryce, Karl, to get over in the corner.

Thomas Leuluai further changed the landscape after the break by beating three Saints tacklers for a solo effort, improved by Richards to cut the margin to four points.

Again Wigan's energy and enthusiasm threatened to overwhelm Saints. However, their defence hold firm, and, aided by a couple of penalties, they went to the other end for Paul Wellens to plunge over. Wellens also made a magnificent try-saving tackle on George Carmont. Minutes later, more pressure saw Joel Tomkins fail to take a difficult pass that would have brought a try. Instead, Saints, like the predators they are, went to the far end for Foster this time to take Gidley's pass and go over.

Wigan: Richards; Roberts, Gleeson, Carmont, K Pryce; S Tomkins, Leuluai; Fielden, McIlorum, Coley, Bailey, J Tomkins, Farrell. Subs used: Riddell, Prescott, Paleaaesina, Tuson.

St Helens: Wellens; Foster, Gidley, Flannery, Meli; L.Pryce, Moore; Graham, Cunningham, Hargreaves, Clough, Dixon, Puletua. Subs used: Roby, Johnson, Ashurst, Fozzard.

Referee: P Bentham (Warrington).