Saints clinch top spot

Wigan battle for draw at Knowsley Road

Last updated: 6th September 2008   Subscribe to RSS Feed

Saints clinch top spot

Gidley: try double

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St Helens ended the regular season top of the Super League table after a 16-16 draw with Wigan Warriors at Knowsley Road on Friday evening.

Just six days after beating Hull FC at Wembley to complete a hat-trick of Challenge Cup triumphs, Saints were forced to overcome an early 12-0 deficit to earn a share of the spoils with their fierce rivals.

They did so without the services of stand-off Leon Pryce, who was rested due to a calf injury.

Wigan led 12-6 at half-time through tries from George Carmont and Joel Tomkins.

Matt Gidley got Saints' opener just before the break and, after the interval, the hosts took control, moving into a 16-14 lead courtesy of a try from Ade Gardner and Gidley's second.

That looked to be enough for the win until Pat Richards landed a 71st-minute penalty to salvage a point for Wigan.

Expansive

The Warriors adopted a surprisingly expansive approach while dominating territory and possession during a scoreless opening quarter-of-an-hour.

And their cause was further boosted when Saints skipper Keiron Cunningham, on the occasion of his 435th appearance for the club, took a knock and was forced off for the rest of the opening half.

The temperature of an already intense contest was further raised when James Graham was sent to the sin-bin in the 20th minute for his furious reaction to being shoulder barged by Iafeta Paleaaesina.

There appeared to be little wrong with Paleaaesina's challenge, which made contact with Graham's jaw as the Saints second rower, making a dummy run, ducked into the collision.

Wigan cashed in on the extra man with two tries in three minutes to open a 12-0 lead.

Centre Carmont twice sidestepped would-be tacklers to grab the opener on 26 minutes and loose forward Tomkins followed across the whitewash from Trent Barrett's mis-pass shortly afterwards. Richards landed both conversions.

And the visitors held their 12-point advantage until a minute before half-time when the video referee ruled Gidley had scored in the right corner.

The Saints centre slid towards the line as Thomas Leuluai came in at an angle with a last-ditch tackle. The try was awarded as replays failed to show if Leuluai had prevented the ball being grounded. Sean Long slotted the extras to reduce the deficit to 12-6 at the interval.

That completed St Helens' record of scoring in the first half of every game of the regular season.

Wigan extended their lead to 14-6 in the 43rd minute when Richards drilled a long-range penalty between the uprights after Jon Wilkin was penalised for delaying a play-of-the-ball.

Cunningham return

Cunningham returned to the fray early in the second half and made an immediate impact directing play from dummy half.

The hosts got back within two at 14-12 on 53 minutes when Gidley's flick pass gave Gardner a simple finish in the right corner and Long added the touchline conversion.

And they moved 16-14 in front five minutes later through Gidley's second try. The Australian barged over from close range after the ball had been spun wide from left to right. Long was off-target with the additional two points.

After video referee Ian Smith chalked off another Saints try for Francis Meli due to a double movement, the momentum swung back to Wigan when Richards booted a 39-metre penalty to bring the scores level at 16-16 with nine minutes remaining.

Richards could have earned Wigan's first win at Knowsley Road for five years but his drop goal attempt sliced wide in the 77th minute.

The result brings an end to Saints' 21-match winning streak although they have the consolation of claiming the league winners' shield for the fourth year in a row.

A point was enough to keep Wigan's hopes of a home play-off tie alive. They will finish fourth in the table unless Warrington beat Huddersfield on Saturday.