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Saints shock champions Wigan
Impressive win leaves visitors just 80 minutes away from Grand Final
St Helens moved straight into the Super League play-off semi-finals with a 26-18 win over reigning champions Wigan.
Saints dominated Sunday's qualifying play-off against their great rivals from the start and raced into a richly-deserved 14-0 lead before the half hour mark.
Wigan rallied to get within two points in the second half before Saints regained the initiative through Paul Wellens' second try and another from Louis McCarthy-Scarsbrook.
Joel Tomkins touched down to set up a dramatic finale but Saints managed to hold out and earn themselves a well-deserved week off before they resume their Grand Final bid.
It means Wigan, who finished the regular season in second place ahead of Saints, must pick themselves up for a preliminary semi-final against Catalan Dragons at home next weekend.
Contests between these old foes are usually explosive affairs and it took just ten seconds for the repeat of last season's Grand Final to set alight.
Wigan half back Paul Deacon's knock on from the kick off gave a full set to the visitors deep in home territory but a golden opportunity was spurned as winger Tom Makinson was unable to power past Sam Tomkins with the line at his mercy.
It was a frantic start with shell-shocked Wigan put onto the back foot by the quick tempo of the organised Saints side.
Two more chances went begging for the visitors as Jon Wilkin dropped the ball with the line at the mercy before Wigan captain Sean O'Loughlin held up James Graham under the posts.
But it did not take Saints long to get their reward as they stormed into a well-merited 12-0 lead.
Experienced full back Wellens stepped in between two Wigan defenders to grab the opener before Michael Shenton burst through again to set up the simplest of tries for the supporting Jonny Lomax under the home posts.
Jamie Foster booted both of the routine conversions and added a penalty just before the half hour mark when Brett Finch was penalised for holding down.
Still Saints pressed as the game continued at a fast and furious pace but Sam Tomkins, recently crowned Super League player of the year, could not give his side a much-needed lifeline when he failed to ground the ball as he reached out for the line.
Wigan piled on the pressure as the half time hooter approached and, just as some heroic Saints defending looked to have kept the Challenge Cup winners at bay, they forced two more sets which allowed Pat Richards to finally find a way through in the left corner.
Michael Maguire's half time team talk clearly paid dividends as O'Loughlin scampered over shortly after the restart with Richards' second conversion reducing the deficit to two points.
However, any momentum they hoped to build from the breakthrough was lost almost immediately.
Lomax's powerful 30 metre burst set up Saints in a great position for Wellens to grab his second try before McCarthy-Scarsbrook dived over on the hour with Foster adding both conversions.
Wigan hit back again through Joel Tomkins's 64th minute try, which was completed by Richards' cool conversion, but they failed to breach a strong Saints defence which held firm to seal a first win of the season over their hosts.
First Utility Super League Table
|5||Hull K R||0||0|
|7||Salford Red Devils||0||0|
|First Utility Super League|
|Thursday 5th February|
|20:00||Widnes vs Wigan|
|Friday 6th February|
|20:00||St Helens vs Catalans Dragons|
|Saturday 7th February|
|15:00||Warrington vs Salford|
|Sunday 8th February|
|15:00||Huddersfield vs Hull|
|15:00||Hull K R vs Leeds|
|15:30||Castleford vs Wakefield|
|Thursday 12th February|
|20:00||Salford vs St Helens|
|Friday 13th February|
|20:00||Hull vs Warrington|
|20:00||Leeds vs Widnes|
|20:00||Wigan vs Huddersfield|
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