Wigan have the final say

Rugby League: St Helens 14 Wigan 44
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The Independent Online
St Helens wanted to win the Premiership to complete a perfect season, but confronted by a side that needed to win it, that was never enough.

For Wigan, the final match of the season last night meant the difference between a season marred by disappointment and one that would be written off as an unmitigated disaster. They played like a team for whom defeat was unthinkable; but for Saints it was really undesirable.

In a match which distilled all the intense rivalry between these two clubs into 80 minutes, that gap in attitudes made all the difference in the world.

"We were desperate tonight," said Wigan's Andy Farrell, whose Harry Sunderland Trophy for his display in the final follows his selection as "Man of Steel", the game's leading individual award, in mid-week. "Saints deserve everything they've got this season, but there was no way we wanted them to win three trophies."

From the start Wigan were propelled forward by a sense of urgency, Gary Connolly spotting a weakness in the Saints' defence had the play-the-ball that was to plague them all evening.

Saints, with an unforgettable treble to chase, came back tremendously with Derek McVey getting away a telling pass for Paul Newlove to go over and for Bobbie Goulding's kick to put them ahead for the only time in the match.

Jason Robinson's jinking run and pass to Shaun Edwards put a stop to that, before Danny Ellison's emergence as the unlikely hero of the last chapter of Wigan's season. The first of a hat-trick of tries came from a basketball pass from the outstanding Farrell and Wigan was suddenly in a commanding position.

A Goulding penalty edged Saints a little closer, but Ellison's second try completing a sweeping move involving Farrell, Robinson and Edwards kept Wigan comfortably in front at the break.

Saints' best period of the match was the first 10 minutes of the second half, when for the only time they managed to exert some sustained pressure on Wigan. That finally paid off when Newlove's powerful run and pass allowed Tommy Martyn to roll out of Connolly's tackle and over the try-line.

Wigan had the perfect answer to that, the imperious Farrell sending Simon Haughton striding in, and the final quarter of the match was purely a question of how many more they would score.

Farrell and Edwards broke from the scrum base to provide one for Henry Paul, Robinson scored one out of nothing and Craig Murdock backed up Ellison for another, before Ellison himself, only given a chance in the first team because of Martin Offiah's departure, rounded off the evening.

They had channelled all their frustrations into one last performance, knowing it would make all the difference to the way that they would feel about 1996, and they had gained their due reward.

For St Helens, one sub-standard display should not obscure the satisfaction of a magnificent campaign. This was, however, a case of one match too many and despite some valiant tackling, especially from Alan Hunte, they always gave Wigan too many chances.

Wigan: Radlinski; Ellison, Tuigamala, Connolly, Robinson; Paul, Edwards; Skerrett, Hall, O'Connor, Haughton, Cassidy, Farrell. Substitutes used: Cowie, Johnson, Murdock, Barrow.

St Helens: Prescott; Hayes, Hunte, Newlove, Sullivan; Martyn, Goulding; Perelini, Cunningham, Fogerty, McVey, Morley, Hammond. Substitutes used: Pickavance, Arnold, Booth, Haigh.

Referee: D Campbell (Widnes).

n Paul Newlove is out of Great Britain's tour to Papua New Guinea, Fiji and New Zealand after badly damaging a hamstring in the latter stages of the final.