Rarely before has a St. Helens derby with Wigan Warriors borne such importance as tonight's fixture at the Totally Wicked Stadium with both sides knowing that a loss would as good as end their 2017 season. Wigan Warriors were still smarting from last weeks Wembley loss and needed to pick themselves up to get a victory against the old enemy.
Both sides started the game sitting on twenty-seven Super League points and knew that while a loss wouldn't mathematically end their chances of a play-off berth, but would will make it extremely unlikely.
Ben Barba made his St Helens debut, completing his twelve game rugby league suspension after an illicit drugs ban, and since being released by the Cronulla Sharks. Theo Fages was the one to miss out as Jonny Lomax was moved into the halves. Wigan too made a couple of changes due to illness with Tom Davies and Ryan Sutton being replaced by Liam Marshall and Jack Wells.
It was a stunning start for Wigan with a try after just ninety seconds when Oliver Gildart was in support of a a Joe Burgess break to take an inside pass and run ten metres to dive in. George Williams added the conversion for an early lead.
On four minutes Gildart got his second with a sprint down the left wing, outpacing the chasing Ben Barba to score in the corner. Williams showed he’d brought his kicking boots as he goaled from the sideline silencing the home support.
Williams added a thirteenth minute penalty after Kyle Amor had failed to clear the ruck to take the scoreline to 14-0.
With twenty-one showing on the clock Ben Barba opened his Saints account when despite the ball being knocked out of the full-backs hand in the act of scoring, he got a hand on it in goal for the four pointer. Mark Percival slid the conversion across the front of the posts.
There was little to choose between the two sides for the rest of the half with both sides having attacking opportunities but the defences holding firm to send the sides into the sheds separated by just ten points.
On forty-nine Anthony Gelling extended the Warriors lead when he took a delighful soft Sam Tomkins pass to stoop over the line and ground. Williams failed to add the conversion but just as in the first half it was a great start to the second for the visitors.
Within two minutes Willams scored off a Burgess break and pass and when he added the extras the game was already beyond the the Saints at 24-4.
On fifty-seven Zeb Taia battled his way to the line past four attempted tackles and close to the posts it allowed Percival to kick the conversion and get the home side into double figures.
Tommy Makinson went over off a Dominique Peyroux looping pass on sixty-one and when Percival conveted brilliantly from the touchline it was an eight point game at 24-16.
On seventy-nine Willie Isa was sin-binned for a puch on Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook but with the penalty having already been awarded before the push Williams kicked the penalty to complete the scoring for the night and crown a 26-16 win.
It was a disappointing night for the Saints who now have a massive battle to try and make the four. Wigan are still alive and kicking in the competition and will be hoping that Saints can beat Wakefield Trinity next week to give them a chance of hitting the top four with a win away at last weeks nemesis, Hull FC.
Saints: Barba (T), Makinson (T), Morgan, Percival (2G), Grace, Lomax, Smith, Amor, Roby, Thompson, Taia (T), Wilkin, Knowles. Subs: Walmsley, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Douglas, Peyroux.
Warriors: Tomkins S, Marshall, Gelling (T), Gildart (2T), Burgess, Williams (T, 5G), Leuluai, Nuuausala, McIlorum, Clubb, Bateman, Farrell, O’Loughlin. Subs: Powell, Tautai, Isa (SB), Wells.
Referee: Rob Hicks.