New Saints coach Justin Holbrook lapped up his first derby experience as his side snatched a 22-19 victory over Wigan to keep alive their Betfred Super League top-four hopes.
Two tries in the final quarter from centre Mark Percival proved decisive as Saints followed up their 45-0 rout of Hull in Holbrook’s first match in charge with a gritty performance to take the spoils in front of a 13,138 crowd at an atmospheric Totally Wicked Stadium.
“It was an awesome atmosphere,” said Holbrook. “To have the two sets of fans singing the whole game, the players are so lucky to be running out in these type of games.
“It was good tough old game and, although neither side were fantastic, I knew how big a game it was and how much it means to both clubs.”
Wigan led 14-6 thanks to tries from winger Tom Davies and full-back Lewis Tierney, plus three goals from makeshift marksman George Williams on his 100th appearance for the club.
But second rower Zeb Ta’ai pulled a try back five minutes before half-time adding to Ryan Morgan’s fourth-minute effort, as Saints cut the gap to just two points and they defended heroically before Percival pounced for his match-winning scores.
It was an awesome atmosphere, To have the two sets of fans singing the whole game, the players are so lucky to be running out in these type of gamesJustin Holbrook
“For us to find a way to win, I’m rapped,” Holbrook added. “I thought we did well to be that close at half-time. We were just hanging in there and we were a bit all over the shop with the ball in the second half but we kept turning up in defence.
“And for Percy to come with that big play was awesome. He didn’t get a lot of ball but he stayed patient and came up with two massive plays, he was probably the difference in the end.
“To experience a win like that when we don’t play well can only help the group.”
Wigan thought they had won the game with a drop goal from the returning Thomas Leuluai nine minutes from the end and coach Shaun Wane felt they were the better team.
“It’s a tough one,” he said. “I’m very proud of our efforts.
“I thought we had the majority of the game and we had some tough calls in the second half. We had to do some defending on our line and we did it with vigour and showed some toughness.
“I’ve got half the salary cap in the gym but I thought we were the better team if I’m honest and we could and should have won.
“I’m really pleased, St Helens know they’ve been in a game.”
Wigan’s injury problems continued when second rower Joel Tomkins withdrew with a groin strain sustained in the warm-up, while centre Liam Forsyth went off with concussion.
Wigan, who remained in sixth place in the table, have little time to lick their wounds as they prepare for the visit of Wakefield on Monday while St Helens have a week to prepare for their game after Monday’s fixture at Huddersfield was re-scheduled.
“It seems to sum up our luck,” Wane said. “Saints don’t play for a week and we play on Monday but it is what it is. All the players can’t wait to get back out there.”
Holbrook admits he is relieved to get the chance for some breathing space, especially after losing stand-off Theo Fages and prop Luke Douglas through concussion.
“It’s hard for anyone to back,” Holbrook. “We’ve a couple of head knocks as well so it’s a good feeling to give the boys a bit of time to freshen up.”