Wigan and St Helens set up Grand Final showpiece
Two blockbuster semi-finals in the rugby league play-offs featured 160 minutes of knockout football, with each one worthy of Grand Final proportions.
The first installment between St Helens and Catalan was entertainment epitomised. Super League table-toppers the Saints put on a show that had even the neutrals foaming at the mouth. Despite conceding an early, yet controversial try to Morgan Escare, Jordan Turner quickly hit back; his determined drive to the line sliding him through a barrage of bodies as French bodies floundered around his upper body, as the ball surreptitiously crossed the whitewash.
It was then swift by name and nature, as winger Adam Swift scampered almost from the halfway line, bouncing off three Catalan challenges to touchdown for a second. Midway through the first half, Dragons’ talisman Escare sustained an injury collecting a high kick. It was his season over; a disappointing end to his campaign.
One way traffic continued in the second period; the Dragons line may as well have been parking marshals, as Willie Manu started a move and finished it. It was interplay inspired, as the ball was shifted to Tommy Makinson via Mark Percival before being dished back up to Manu who danced over for the third; Catalan bodies more like roadblocks, as Saints weaved right then left.
Simply put, the home side were relentless, a penalty from Percival added two more to the tally, before Mose Masoe surged through Catalan resistance like water breaching rock to add another four. A Percival try from nothing put the score at 30-6, making Michael Oldfield’s late effort a mere consolation for the French outfit.
Just down the road, a full house at the DW Stadium were treated to a match of blood and thunder. Although Wigan capitalised on an early foul from Warrington to put a penalty kick over the posts, the Wolves were wolfish in defence, providing a tough barrier to break down.
An arm wrestle ensued for the opening quarter, with the pendulum swinging from right to left, however it was the home side who stole the initiative. Joel Tomkins, with older brother and former teammate Sam in the crowd watching, was irrepressible throughout, and it was his combination play with stand-off Blake Green that led to the breakthrough try; the two creating a two-on-one scenario.
It was then the turn of the Wolves to attack, though Wigan were not easy prey, and warrior-like in their indomitability. A bizarre Joel Monaghan try eventually levelled things to bring the away side to within four points at half time, before they caught Wigan napping from the restart; Gareth O’Brien’s kick and chase, turning into a gamble that paid off, as Warrington took a four-point lead.
For daring to presume they could nick the win, Wigan’s retribution was ruthless. With celebrity fan Sir Bradley Wiggins in the stadium, cheering the Warriors on, the home side upped it a gear. Anthony Gelling’s tenacity handed the home side another four points, before Joe Burgess scored late on, in the dying seconds to put the match beyond doubt.