Bevan French doubles up as Wigan dismantle St Helens
It has been over 1,000 days since the Super League trophy resided anywhere other than St Helens but on nights like these, it feels like for the first time in four seasons, the all-conquering reign of the back-to-back-to-back champions could be under threat. Make no mistake, absorbing derbies and the results that accompany them like this one can skew our focus and while this was a setback for the Saints, they are still the favourites to lift the title at Old Trafford in a month’s time.
There have been worse nights to be a Wigan supporter, in truth. Victory over their great rivals is cause enough for celebration. But this win, one of their most impressive of the season so far, not only secured a top two finish before the playoffs but denied the Saints the chance to win the League Leaders’ Shield at the home of their greatest rivals. Had the reigning champions secured top spot here, it would have left a bitter taste in the mouths of everyone associated with Wigan.
St Helens, without almost an entire first-choice backline here, will not play this poorly again when the playoffs begin. But Wigan were defensively outstanding and clinical in attack when it mattered. They, like the Saints, now get the opening round of the playoffs off courtesy of a top-two finish. All season long the prospect of someone needing to come here to keep their season alive has felt daunting. This performance further emphasised those thoughts.
“The endeavour, desire and commitment to one another were outstanding,” Wigan’s coach, Matt Peet, said. “We can do some things better but they’re the things that win games at this time of the year. That’s what makes me proud of that performance.” He certainly should be proud, but he will be wary of how a wounded St Helens side react to this. They were uncharacteristically poor here, and never recovered from an 18-2 half-time deficit.
“Wigan deserve a lot of credit, they played really well and we weren’t quite good enough,” their coach, Kristian Woolf, conceded. “But we’ll learn a lot from that game. We’ll take more from it than they will.”
Should they get some of their key stars back for the playoffs, this performance will not cause too much concern. History has shown you write St Helens off at your peril but they will look back on this night, a chance to secure top spot at the home of their bitter rivals, as a missed opportunity.
They broke the deadlock through an early Jonny Lomax penalty but the remainder of the first half went Wigan’s way. The hosts responded when Jai Field and Bevan French combined to send the latter across, before Field finished a Harry Smith break to make it 12-2. With half-time approaching, they struck another telling blow as Liam Farrell shrugged off some sloppy St Helens defending for their third try.
The visitors certainly responded with gusto after half-time. But they were met by a stern wall of Wigan defence time and time again and even when Joey Lussick’s try finally broke that resistance, the lead was only cut to 12 heading into the final quarter. You felt that one more blow from the hosts would be decisive, and that moment arrived when Liam Marshall seized on a St Helens error to race away and touch down.
Joe Batchelor scored a consolation try and French’s second on the full-time hooter was merely the icing on the cake. This result meant nothing in terms of trophies, thanks largely to the outcome denying St Helens top spot here. But psychologically, it will be fascinating to see just what this night means on the road to Old Trafford.
Wigan Field; French, Pearce-Paul, Isa; Marshall; Cust, Smith; Singleton, O’Neill, Byrne, Farrell, Bateman, Smithies. Interchange Mago, Ellis, Cooper, Shorrocks. St Helens Welsby; Simm, Hurrell, Batchelor, Bennison; Davies, Lomax; Walmsley, Roby, Lees, Bell, Sironen, Knowles. Interchange Lussick, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Paasi, Wingfield. Referee Ben Thaler.