Victory as sweet as ever for Saints

Rugby League St Helens 44 Wigan 12 St Helens win 66-44 on aggregate
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The Independent Online
St Helens did what Wigan's team sheet always suggested they would do at Knowsley Road yesterday by becoming the game's unofficial winter champions.

Wigan were still without the players who missed the first leg of the Norweb Winter Challenge on Boxing Day and, most damagingly, without their captain, Andy Farrell, as well.

It was to the credit of a young and relatively inexperienced side that they clung on to the remnants of their 10-point lead from that first game for as long as they did and only went behind on aggregate for the first time 13 minutes into the second half.

St Helens, close to full strength as well as relishing home advantage, scored the only try of a lacklustre first quarter, Apollo Perelini going over for the first of his two tries after Bobbie Goulding's kick had put Wigan under pressure.

The contest came alive with a brilliant try by each side within a couple of minutes. First Wigan's outstanding player, the mercurial Sean Long, started a move that ended with Danny Ellison scoring.

Saints responded with one even better, Chris Morley and Paul Newlove making the running for Anthony Sullivan to go over.

When Steve Prescott's tackle knocked the ball out of the hand of his opposite number, Doc Murray, to claim the try, the running totals were neatly level at half-time.

Wigan, despite losing Steve Barrow and Ellison with injuries that further stacked the odds against them, were not ready to bow to the inevitable yet, Long and Kris Radlinski linking superbly for Paul Johnson to claim their second try.

The rest, however, was all St Helens. Goulding, whose resoration to the side proved as crucial as Farrell's absence, fooled Wigan by running and scoring on the sixth tackle and Perelini then took a reverse pass from Hammond for his second try.

A delayed pass from Tommy Martyn sent Vila Matautia powering over, Alan Hunte scored after Goulding had kicked straight from a scrum and Hammond rounded off the try-scoring from close range.

As Martyn said, "It's good even to beat Wigan at dominoes," so to deprive them of this pounds 15,000 purse as well as last year's Challenge Cup and Championship made the whole exercise more than worthwhile for Saints.

The only sobering point was that one of their best performers, Prescott, is on the transfer list after failing to agree new terms and that the club could be heading for similar problems with Goulding.

It has been a good winter; the test will be how well St Helens hold the whole thing together in the summer.

St Helens: Prescott; Arnold, Hunte, Newlove, Sullivan; Martyn, Goulding; Perelini, Cunningham, O'Neill, McVey, Pickavance, Hammond. Substitutes: Morley, Northey, Matautia, Anderson.

Wigan: Murray; Ellison, Radlinski, A Johnson, Cardiss; Long, Murdock; Sherratt, Hall, Cowie, Holgate, Barrow, Tallec. Substitutes: P Johnson, Baynes, Wright, Knowles.

Referee: D Campbell (Widnes).