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FULL TIME, PICTURES ADDED: St Helens 18 Warrington Wolves 36
WARRINGTON Wolves have reached their first ever Super League Grand Final.
Wolves will be making their debut appearance in the showdown at Old Trafford after delivering their first ever play-off victory over Saints at Langtree Park, fighting their way back from a half-time deficit to earn a shot at their first Championship title since 1955.
Trekking in two points down at the break after a dominating opening from the hosts, brilliant Warrington Wolves exploded into gear with three tries in a devastating seven-minute spell to ensure they would meet Leeds Rhinos for the first time in a Championship final since 1961.
Wolves were left holding on for dear life in the first half, only tries from Chris Riley and Simon Grix keeping them in the hunt after tries from Francis Meli, Tom Makinson and Paul Wellens had given the hosts the advantage.
But Wolves were a different side after the break, with Trent Waterhouse scoring a vital brace and Joel Monaghan and Chris Riley also touching down.
It was a cagey opening 10 minutes, with Saints edging it in terms of possession and territory. Wolves did have the first chance to attack the host’s try line after a knock on, but Briers coughed up possession to eliminate the threat.
Saints then managed to manoeuvre themselves into position near Wolves’ line, but Lomax’s grubber was scooped up by Riley for a goal line drop out. Meli did eventually cross in the corner to the delight of the home support, only for referee Ben Thaler to rule Paul Wellens’ pass had gone forward in the build-up.
They were warning signs that Saints were in the ascendency, with Wolves failing to escape their half thanks to some determined home defence.
With Saints’ pressure increasing, it was only a matter of time before they were able to make it count. Camped inside Wolves’ 10-metre line, the hosts whipped the ball out to the right wing and Chris Flannery’s pass sent Tom Makinson over in the corner. Chris Riley looked as though he had done enough to put the winger off, but video referee Phil Bentham ruled that Saints had earned the first points in the match.
Wolves responded in the best possible fashion, wasting no time in moving up the pitch and scoring with one of their first real attacks of the game.
Gifted possession inside Saints’ half by Jon Wilkin’s spill, Wolves sent the ball left through Hodgson to put Riley over in space and the winger touched down his 100th Warrington Wolves try. Hodgson’s cool conversion, his 1000th point in the British game, handed Wolves a slender 6-4 lead thanks to Makinson’s earlier missed effort.
The try did nothing to prevent Saints from maintaining their dominance, with the home side spending the majority of the play inside Wolves’ half.
Tony Smith’s men were defending brilliantly, propelling Saints away tackle after tackle until Ben Thaler gave the home side a penalty for offside.
That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, as again the pressure told and Mark Flanagan’s offload bounced fortuitously into Meli’s path for a simple try.
Saints had their tails up and had it not been for the superb defence of Hodgson, who made two try-saving tackles late in the first half, the home side could have been long gone at the break.
As it was, Wolves still conceded another try when Wilkin’s huge, hanging bomb was dropped by Hodgson under intense pressure and Wellens was in position to scoop up the loose ball and drop over. Makinson converted and after 35 minutes Saints were in control at 14-6.
But like their first try, Wolves countered with a rare attacking spell and managed to make it count.
Following Richie Myler’s break from inside his own 10-metre line, Wolves got on to the front foot and started to throw the ball about.
It looked fruitless until Paul Wood ’s offload found Michael Monaghan and he sent the ball out to Lee Briers , who caught Simon Grix running a powerful line through the defence. Hodgson stroked over the conversion, and despite an under-fire first half Wolves found themselves trailing by only two points at the break.
Within 10 minutes of the restart, Wolves were ahead.
Briers lifted a teasing high ball for Joel Monaghan to contest with Meli. Like in previous games, Wolves’ Aussie winger had the beating of him in the air and got to the ball first, only to drop it in the melee. Monaghan was quickest to react, though, picking up the ball and dropping over the line for a try that was eventually given by Bentham after several replays. Hodgson added the extras and Warrington led 14-18.
Waterhouse has had the knack of scoring some pretty important tries for Warrington in the latter stages of the season, and the Aussie forward continued that streak with a remarkable brace in the space of five minutes on the hour.
First Ryan Atkins’ break was well supported by Waterhouse to cross next to the posts, before he broke the tackle of three men to sprint free and reach out an arm to plant the ball over the line. Hodgson added both conversions, and in the space of 20 breathless second-half minutes Wolves had crafted a 16-point lead.
If the Wolves fans could not believe what they were seeing then, they were pinching themselves a couple of minutes later.
Working the ball out to the left edge, Wood’s pass found Myler and he found Atkins to send Riley over for his second try of the game. Hodgson converted for 14-34, and barring a complete collapse Wolves were on their way to their first ever Grand Final.
The collapse never came and though Meli’s late effort made the score more respectable, Hodgson’s penalty made the final score 18-36 and ensured Smith and his Wolves will meet the Challenge Cup final’s defeated opponents Leeds Rhinos at Old Trafford on October 6.
Tickets for the Grand Final from Wolves' 15,000 allocation will go on sale to season ticket holders from tomorrow, Sunday, from 9am until midday Monday, when tickets will go on sale to the general public. Tickets can be bought at the stadium, online or phone. Full details at warringtonwolves.com.
Saints: Paul Wellens; Tommy Makinson, Chris Flannery, Josh Jones, Francis Meli; Lance Hohaia, Jonny Lomax; Josh Perry, James Roby, Anthony Laffranchi, Tony Puletua, Mark Flanagan, Jon Wilkin. Subs: Sia Soliola, Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Paul Clough, Andy Dixon.
Wolves: Brett Hodgson; Joel Monaghan, Stefan Ratchford, Ryan Atkins, Chris Riley; Lee Briers, Richie Myler; Chris Hill, Micky Higham, Ben Harrison , Ben Westwood , Trent Waterhouse, Simon Grix. Subs: Adrian Morley , Michael Monaghan, Paul Wood, Mike Cooper .