Northey seals trip south

St Helens 24 Widnes 14: Challenge Cup semi-final: Battling Widnes give St Helens a fright on road to Wembley
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The Independent Online
WIDNES were not destined to become the first side from outside the top division to go to Wembley, although it took St Helens 74 minutes of an absorbing Silk Cup Challenge Cup semi-final yesterday to shake them off their trail.

A club still smarting at its exclusion from the Super League showed much of its depth of cup fighting tradition at Central Park, Wigan, yesterday. Widnes simply refused to bow to the inevitable even when everything seemed to be going against them. In the final analysis, they did not quite have enough quality at their disposal, but how they made Saints, beaten finalists in 1987, 1989 and 1991, work for a victory that had been widely expected before kick-off.

It was always likely that the longer the ball spent on the flanks, the more difficult Widnes's task would be and a less determined side could have been beaten out of sight by Saints' back-line flair in the first 10 minutes.

John Devereux had already been forced into making one try-saving tackle on Anthony Sullivan before Saints' Welsh wingman opened the scoring after four minutes.

Bobbie Goulding's attempt to get his pass away to Paul Newlove was knocked on by Steve McCurrie and from the resulting scrum Widnes's Shane Cooper was slow to move up on his opposite number.

Goulding then showed remarkable strength in holding off the second wave of Widnes tacklers and getting the ball away to Sullivan, who, despite having almost half the length of the field to go, was able to run in virtually unchallenged.

Goulding missed the goal but landed a penalty as Saints took early but firm control. The whole afternoon was a story of Widnes refusing to succumb, however, and the first act of defiance saw Cooper delay his pass with familiar skill to allow Stuart Spruce to cut in and score, reducing the lead to two points.

Saints continued to stretch Widnes whenever they moved the ball wide and would have scored again if Scott Gibbs had not made a hash of his pass to Alan Hunte. Spruce then averted another score with a tackle on the rampaging and ever- dangerous Newlove.

Having repulsed that threat on the left, Widnes were wide open on the right and Hunte, playing his first game for 10 months after undergoing a knee reconstruction, was able to stroll in from Goulding's pass.

When Goulding extended Saints' lead with two penalties early in a second half where just about every refereeing decision went against Widnes, the match once more seemed to be resolving itself predictably on the side of the cup favourites.

But a try out of nothing by Devereux dragged Widnes back into contention, Lee Hansen's apparently wild pass giving him the opportunity to step inside the advancing defence and power his way to the line.

Christian Tyrer's goal brought Widnes within six points, but they were again knocked back when St Helens substitute Phil Veivers was held near the line and Karle Hammond darted over from close range to score against his former club.

The difference in power and fitness between full-time and part-time players was always evident, but still Widnes would not concede that the contrast made their task impossible, David Hulme picking up a difficult pass from his toes and going over to touch down and keep their hopes alive.

It was not until six minutes from time that the favourites were safe. Hammond's pass gave Andy Northey a sight of the try line and the Saints loose forward ensured that it would be his side that travel to Wembley at the end of April to face the winners of the second semi -final between Bradford and Leeds.

St Helens: Prescott; Hunte (Veivers, 62), Gibbs, Newlove, Sullivan; Hammond, Goulding; Perelini, Cunningham, Leatham (Matuatia, 64), Joynt, Booth, Northey.

Widnes: Spruce; Devereux, Pechey, Wright, Borniley (Cassidy, 25); Tyrer, Cooper; Makin (Myler, 65), Gartland, Hansen, P Hulme, Myler (D Hulme, 29), McCurrie.

Referee: R Smith (Castleford).