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FULL TIME, PICTURES ADDED: St Helens 16 Warrington Wolves 29
WARRINGTON Wolves have secured a top-two finish in Super League following a cut-and-thrust victory over battling St Helens at Langtree Park.
Wigan Warriors’ 34-33 defeat to Hull FC means Warrington cannot be caught by Shaun Wane’s men and Wolves can look forward to a home tie against either Wigan or Leeds in the opening round of the play-offs.
But Wolves’ undefeated record at Saints’ new home was far from certain, despite them storming into a 22-0 lead off the back of a superb opening 20 minutes.
Tries from Joel Monaghan, Rhys Evans, Micky Higham and Trent Waterhouse were just desserts for the visitor’s brilliant start, during which the shell-shocked Saints were unable to live with the intensity Wolves had on offer.
The tide turned long enough for Saints to produce a spirited fight back during a much-improved second half performance, but a classic Lee Briers drop goal and a superb finish from Garreth Carvell secured a last-gasp victory.
Wolves, now one point behind a Huddersfield side who would clinch top spot with a home win against Wakefield on Sunday night, looked out to make a point early on and they wasted no time in establishing dominance in the game, taking the lead after just three minutes.
They were quick off the line to charge down Saints’ clearing kick deep inside their own half and the tried and trusted combination of Lee Briers and Joel Monaghan pounced with a wonderful try. Briers lifted an inch-perfect kick out to the right and Joel Monaghan was at full stretch to catch and plant the ball inside the line. Ratchford missed the conversion, but the quick start had already silenced the home support.
The hosts were obviously rattled from such an early blow, as their defence up the middle went missing long enough for Ben Harrison to burst through almost immediately after kick off. Harrison’s charging run had Saints’ defence scrambling to set up and Stefan Ratchford’s long pass exploited the space brilliantly. Simon Grix’s pass set up a two-on-one and Rhys Evans had no need of wing partner Chris Riley as he charged over for a try on his return from injury. Ratchford added the extras.
The hosts barely had the ball in the opening 10 minutes, but Micky Higham’s knock on at the half way line gave them the chance to force a goal-line drop-out with a kick to the corner. Adam Swift’s knock on quickly ended their attack and Lee Briers ended Wolves’ subsequent set with a cheeky grubber to force Saints back on to their own line.
Warrington’s superb opening continued, Paul Wood making amends for Chris Riley’s forward pass by forcing a knock on from Anthony Walker in the tackle on the half way line. It resulted in Wolves’ third try, as from the resulting possession Briers reversed a grubber in between the sticks to give Higham the chance to pounce. Video referee Ben Thaler had a tough time sorting out the melee of players, but deemed Wolves’ Player of the Year had got the ball down. Ratchford’ simple conversion opened a 16-0 lead after just 15 minutes.
Saints had struggled to find their feet in the opening 20 minutes and even when they did manage to win the ball, they quickly conspired to lose it again. Jordan Turner’s superb hit on Trent Waterhouse won them the ball back, only for Higham to respond in kind to save the big Aussie’s blushes.
Wolves almost punished Saints’ weak defence up the middle for a second time soon after, as Adrian Morley was allowed to charge through Sia Soliola and trundle up the field. Evans was denied a second try from the resulting play, as Thaler ruled that Jonny Lomax had done enough to prevent him grounding Grix’s grubber.
Soliola had not enjoyed the best of performances after his introduction, and it got worse for the second row after he dropped the ball in the tackle for a second time. Wolves once again punished the error, as Grix’s grubber bounced kindly for Trent Waterhouse to drop over the line and open a 22-0 lead. There was some question mark over Ratchford’s kick, but the assistant referees raised their flags despite protests from the home support.
But Saints did manage to give themselves a chance before half time with two tries in the final 10 minutes. First the hosts capitalised on a penalty conceded by Higham to send Jordan Turner crashing through Evans and Ratchford on the right, before Adam Swift finished a flowing passing move with a slide into the corner. Lomax added one conversion and Wolves trooped in 22-10 up at the break.
Wolves were unable to replicate the intensity of their opening 25 minutes after the restart, and as clearing kicks from Briers and Michael Monaghan dribbled out of play Saints started to grow in confidence backed by the vociferous home crowd.
Wolves’ constant concession of penalties did not help matters and once Joel Monaghan had given Saints back-to-back penalties for lying on, the home side sensed an opening. Wolves managed to hold them out for the first set, but a drop-out gave Saints a second chance. They took it, Lance Hohaia being held up before Turner’s offload sent Lomax charging over the line. He added the conversion to cut Wolves’ lead to just six points, having been 22-0 up at one stage.
Wolves managed to lift enough to put in a couple of good clearing kicks and some good chases to back them up, before Briers popped up with a classic drop goal on 66 minutes to move his side seven points clear. It set up a tense finale, with Saints piling on the pressure, only for Chris Bridge and Joel Monaghan to clear up Lomax’s grubber attempt near the visiting try line.
Then came the killer blow for the home side. As Wolves looked to run down the clock inside Saints’ half, Lance Hohaia conceded a penalty on the fifth tackle to give Wolves a chance to turn the screw. They took it, a stabbed grubber kick from dummy half sending Garreth Carvell and Lomax on the chase and Wolves’ hulking prop somehow managed to get his hand to the ball before it ran out of play. Ratchford’s conversion made it 29-16 and sent the travelling support into raptures.
Saints: Jonny Lomax; Tommy Makinson, Jordan Turner, Francis Meli, Adam Swift; Jon Wilkin, Lance Hohaia; Tony Puletua, Stuart Howarth, Anthony Laffranchi, Josh Jones, Anthony Walker, Willie Manu. Subs: Paul Wellens, Sia Soliola, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Alex Walmesley.
Wolves: Stefan Ratchford; Joel Monaghan, Chris Bridge, Rhys Evans, Chris Riley; Lee Briers, Simon Grix; Chris Hill, Micky Higham, Paul Wood, Trent Waterhouse, Ben Westwood, Ben Harrison. Subs: Adrian Morley, Michael Monaghan, Garreth Carvell, Mike Cooper.
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