Grand final heartache

Paul Wellens slumps to the ground following the defat to arch-rivals Wigan Warriors
Paul Wellens slumps to the ground following the defat to arch-rivals Wigan Warriors
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Saints endured Grand Final agony for the fourth year in a row with a heartbreaking reverse to Wigan.

And the 22-10 loss means Bradford-bound Mick Potter ends his tenure as Saints coach trophy-less.

A near-capacity crowd of 71,526 at Old Trafford witnessed what in truth was a one-sided affair on Saturday evening.

The Warriors did not look back after former Saints centre Martin Gleeson, whose time at Knowsley Road was marred by his involvement in the infamous betting scandal of 2004, scored two tries in the first 15 minutes to give his side the upper hand they never looked like relinquishing.

New Zealand scrum-half Thomas Leuluai and lively full-back Sam Tomkins were the architects of an impressive win which was achieved largely without newly-crowned Man of Steel Pat Richards, who hobbled off with an ankle injury three minutes before half-time.

In addition to scoring four tries to two, Wigan had two others disallowed and, in the absence of their ace marksman, missed three kicks at goal.

Not that that will worry the Wigan fans who included Ryan Giggs after he chose to watch tonight’s climax to the domestic rugby league season instead of Manchester United’s match at Sunderland.

While Wigan were able to celebrate their first Grand Final triumph since 1998 - and their first major silverware for eight years - in the first season under Australian coach Michael Maguire, St Helens were left distraught after suffering a fourth successive defeat.

A hat-trick of losses at the hands of Leeds was bad enough but this emphatic defeat by their most bitter of rivals will be particularly hard to stomach.

It meant a sad end to the distinguished career of Saints captain Keiron Cunningham, who hung up his boots at the end of his 496th appearance, while Bradford-bound Mick Potter became the first St Helens coach of the Super League era not to win a trophy.

Cunningham went off midway through the first half with his side trailing 16-0 and he was powerless to turn the tide when he returned after the break.

The early damage was done by Gleeson, a tryscorer for St Helens in their 2002 Grand Final win over Bradford, who was on the end of a sweet passing move involving Leuluai and Sam Tomkins to open the scoring after only three minutes.

He then finished off a break from Tomkins, which was carried on by half-backs Leuluai and Paul Deacon, 12 minutes later to put the Wigan fans in dreamland.

It got even better for the Warriors when Gleeson supplied the final pass for winger Darrell Goulding to score his 28th try of the season, with Richards kicking his second conversion to make it 16-0.

The introduction of England hooker James Roby injected fresh impetus into the St Helens side and they pulled a try back on 27 minutes when a from Jon Wilkin pulled the Wigan defence out of position and substitute second rower Andrew Dixon went through a rare hole to touch down.

Jamie Foster’s goal made it 16-6 by half-time but did little to change the momentum of the match.

Wigan felt hard done by when Leuluai had the ball stolen in a two-man tackle as he forced his way to the tryline three minutes into the second half.

A recent rule change meant video referee Ian Smith could only award a penalty rather than a penalty try and replacement goalkicker Mark Riddell was wide with the kick at goal.

The game was still in the balance when Saints full-back Paul Wellens broke clean through the Warriors defence only to see his pass intended for winger Francis Meli intercepted by Goulding while Wilkin dropped Matty Smith’s pass short of the line.

There was no way back for Potter’s men when Tomkins went on another dangerous run out wide and stretched out of Chris Flannery’s tackle to score Wigan’s fourth try.

With the game slipping away, Saints lost their disclipline, with vice-captain Paul Wellens twice warned by referee Richard Silverwood for repeated fouls, with danger man Tomkins coming in for particular attention.

Had Richards been on the field, Saints might have paid more heavily for their indiscretions but Riddell and Tomkins missed three kicks at goal between them.

Second rower Liam Farrell, a distant cousin of former Wigan captain Andy Farrell - the last man to lift the Grand Final trophy - also had a try disallowed for obstruction as the Warriors remained in complete control, with Meli’s late try little more than consolation for Saints.