Rugby League: Deserving St Helens succeed at last: Wigan fail in their bid for a grand slam but Featherstone complete a double

 

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The Independent Online

Wigan . . . . .4

St Helens. . .10

ST HELENS at last beat Wigan in a major domestic final yesterday after almost nine years during which they and everyone else have been trying in vain.

The Lancashire Cup final in 1984 was the last time Wigan picked up losers' medals, with St Helens again the victors. A Premiership final at Old Trafford, which always looked to offer them one of their better chances to start redressing the balance, tilted their way in an exciting last quarter.

Two drop goals from the former Wigan player Gus O'Donnell, and a try from Paul Loughlin, gave them their winning margin and the consensus in both camps afterwards was that they richly deserved a trophy after their efforts all season.

An obviously leg-weary Wigan - who commendably refused to use that or the absence of key players as an excuse - had battled back to 4-4 when O'Donnell put over his drop goals in the space of two minutes. But it was five minutes from the end before Saints' lead began to look secure.

As Wigan threw the ball around with increasing urgency, Martin Offiah dropped a pass in the tackle, Mike Riley picked up and Saints worked the ball the other way to send Loughlin striding in for the decisive score.

Wigan still threatened when Shaun Edwards twice kicked to Offiah's wing and Riley twice dealt confidently with an awkward ball.

A late reprieve for Wigan would have done Saints less than justice. The sharper, fresher team for most of the game, they could have been in a winning position long before their flurry in the last quarter.

They applied most of the pressure in the first half without being able to put points on the board. It was during time added on for the removal of a male streaker that Saints finally took the lead.

Wigan conceded possession when Andrew Farrar was offside while his side had the ball - something of an obscure verdict they could have argued. Saints moved the ball left and switched it the other on the final tackle. Even so, there was little obvious danger from Cooper's stabbed kick until it bounced conveniently off Edwards' foot for Gary Connolly to catch and touch down.

Both sides went close to a try in the second half. Jonathan Griffiths' kick hitting the corner flag just before he arrived in pursuit and Offiah seemed to be obstructed by Sonny Nickle.

Wigan drew level on the hour when Edwards' probing released Frano Botica and his pass allowed the enthusiastic Forshaw in at the corner.

Forshaw and the stand-in full-back, Paul Atcheson, were among Wigan's best, but, as their coach, John Monie, conceded, Saints had been the more deserving side on the day.

At least Wigan's failure to complete an unprecedented grand slam gives their new coach, John Dorahy, something to aim for next season.

Wigan: Atcheson; Robinson, Panapa, Farrar (Cassidy, 72), Offiah; Botica, Edwards; Cowie, Dermott, Skerrett (Gildart, 72), Cassidy (Forshaw, 26), Farrell, Clarke.

St Helens: Lyon; Riley, Connolly, Loughlin, Hunte; Ropati, O'Donnell; Neill (Mann, 56), Dwyer, Mann (Griffiths, 47), Joynt, Nickle, Cooper.

Referee: J Holdsworth (Kippax).

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