Briers drop goals breaks Saints hearts

Royce Simmons
Royce Simmons

SAINTS’ hoodoo over Warrington ended at the Halliwell Jones Stadium on Friday despite threatening to stage another trademark comeback.

Warrington produced two scoring bursts in an extraordinary match at the Halliwell Jones Stadium to complete a first Super League double running out 35-28 winners over Royce Simmons’ side to move two points clear at the top of the table.

Full-back Brett Hodgson, Super League’s leading scorer, grabbed one of his side’s six tries and kicked five conversions as the Wolves claimed only their third win in 40 Super League derbies with Saints, but that tells only half the tale of a remarkable game.

Warrington raced away to an 18-0 lead inside 12 manic minutes at the start only to ruin the best defensive record in the League by conceding four tries in 18 minutes and they trailed 22-18 at half-time.

However, they produced another purple patch in which they ran in three more tries in 10 minutes to open up a 12-point lead, although they needed a late drop goal from Lee Briers to hold off another Saints comeback.

The first of the game’s 11 tries came after just 56 seconds when an attempted clearance kick by Saints stand-off Lee Gaskell was charged down by Michael Monaghan, who reacted quickly to win the race to touch down.

There was more than a touch of good fortune about Warrington’s second try scored by winger Rhys Williams, with suspicions of both a knock-on by Hodgson and a forward pass from Ryan Atkins in the build-up.

But there was no disputing the score when lanky winger Matt King outjumped St Helens youngster Jamie Foster to claim Briers’ kick to the corner and he touched down cleanly despite taking a major collision which curtailed his involvement in the match.

With Hodgson landing all three goals to make it 18-0, Saints must have feared another derby mauling following their 32-10 defeat by Wigan a week earlier but inspirational captain James Graham led the fightback when he forced his way over for a solo try on 16 minutes.

Superb offloads from Scott Moore and Sia Soliola then got the supporting Gaskell over and the gap was down to just two points when Foster took Francis Meli’s crisp pass to finish clinically at the corner on 23 minutes.

A string of penalties enabled the visitors to keep the pressure going and they went in front seven minutes before the break when scrum-half Jonny Lomax broke through the heart of the Warrington defence and the impressive Tony Puletua proved unstoppable from 20 metres out.

Foster kicked three conversions to make it 22-18 at half-time and the home side suffered a blow when skipper Adrian Morley went off with a facial injury nine minutes into the second half.

However, the Wolves regained the lead on 54 minutes when England second rower Ben Westwood ran onto Briers’ short pass and went past full-back Paul Wellens, juggling with the ball before touching down.

The game began to slip away from St Helens when scrum-half Richie Myler carved out an opening for prop Paul Wood to go over on 61 minutes and there was no way back when Hodgson dummied his way over for his side’s sixth try a minute later.

Hodgson’s try came after Saints’ re-start struck the crossbar and went out on the full, forcing them to concede a penalty and confirming that their luck was well and truly out.

Hodgson lost his 100% record with the boot and Saints briefly cut the deficit to six points when Puletua went over for his second try but Briers eased any anxiety in the home ranks with a drop goal.